Dedicated Probate Lawyers Advising You and Your Family in Cape Cod
Probate is the legal process for distributing a deceased person’s property after death, including the transfer of ownership to heirs and beneficiaries. Whether an estate or parts of an estate require going through probate depends on the kind of measures a decedent had in place prior to passing. Estates included in a trust or titled in a way that property gets passed directly to the beneficiaries usually do not require probate.
The main purpose of probate is to prevent fraud after someone’s death, therefore the estate is settled under the supervision of a court. An executor is usually appointed by the court or named in the will, and this person is responsible for gathering and valuing assets owned by the estate, paying bills and taxes, and distributing the assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.
Probate will also analyze the decedent’s will and determine if it is valid or not, and in the case of an invalid will, Probate will assign an executor that will distribute the assets according to the state’s laws of inheritance.
How Do I Know If Probate Will Be Necessary?
In most cases, going through probate is necessary if you need to determine if the deceased person’s will is valid, change ownership of tangible and intangible assets and bank accounts titled only to the decedent’s name without any right of survivorship, or in case a will is invalid or nonexistent. In most cases, if an estate exceeds the Massachusetts small estate threshold and the decedent left no will, or just a will without a trust, probate is usually required before the assets can be transferred.
Even if probate is necessary, not all assets are subject to probate. Those include assets that are transferred automatically to a beneficiary upon the death of the owner, such as a house owned in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship, as well as retirement accounts and life insurance policies with named beneficiaries.
How Long Does It Take for the Probate Process to Be Completed in Massachusetts?
The general rule is that an estate must be probated within 3 years of the decedent’s death. The probate process in MA includes many steps required to transfer property to heirs, pay taxes and debts, and close the estate.
The length of the probate process depends on a variety of factors – whether the process takes place in an informal probate, an unsupervised formal probate or a supervised probate, and on specific factors related to the estate. For this reason, it is difficult to provide a definite answer. Some estates settle or close in weeks or months, while others can take several years depending on the complexity of each case.
Massachusetts law allows small estates with a total value of under $15,000.00 to go through a simplified process called small estate or simplified probate. However, not all small estates qualify for the simplified process.
Are There Ways to Avoid Going Through Probate In Massachusetts?
Many people want to spare their surviving relatives from the pain and expense of going through probate court. It can be a lengthy and costly process, and in some cases, there are steps that one can take to avoid probate.
In Massachusetts, one of the ways to avoid going through probate is by establishing a Living Trust. In short, a living trust is a document that allows you to place all your assets in a trust and name yourself as a trustee and stay in full control of your assets for your lifetime. It also allows you to determine who will receive those assets upon your death. With a living trust, your wealth is transferred directly to a successor trustee that you previously named in the document, avoiding the probate process altogether.
How Can I Get Help With Massachusetts Probate Issues?
Probate laws can be cumbersome and time-consuming. An Estate Planning attorney with knowledge of the Massachusetts Probate Laws can be an extremely important asset for your family when you need to take your loved one’s property through probate, or you would like to make proper plans to avoid having your family members deal with this process.
At Boyd & Boyd, we have been helping many generations of families navigate the myriad laws and ensure their assets are protected and distributed appropriately. We can also discuss the many options to avoid the lengthy wait times and expenses related to probating an estate.
Give us a call at (508) 775-7800 and schedule a free initial estate planning consultation at our Hyannis office to learn more and explore your options.