One important part of estate planning is avoiding the headaches that your heirs can face after your death. These headaches come up when you haven’t made your intentions clear.
The Massachusetts probate process can create a lot of these headaches for your family. Find out why this process exists, and how a little bit of planning (with the help of a qualified attorney) can make things easier for everyone.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised proceeding in which the assets of the decedent (the person who died) are distributed to his or her heirs. Probate is how assets formally pass from one person to their heirs or beneficiaries.
Probate can be complex and painful, or it can be quick and efficient. The process involves validating the decedent’s will, distributing assets and ensuring that the debts of the estate are paid.
Massachusetts, like every other state, has its own set of rules. State law establishes the probate process to manage the decedent’s assets and property that aren’t transferred by contract law, state titling law, or trust law. As a result, any assets or property awarded in a last will or assets owned by an individual who dies without a will may require probate.
Property that passes through probate includes assets and property awarded to heirs through a will. These might include household goods, automobiles and personal property owned at death but not awarded in the will and not otherwise transferred.
Is probate required in Massachusetts?
In most cases, probate is required for estates in Massachusetts.
Each state has its own probate code, and some states have a small estate probate process when estates are under a certain threshold.
If a person dies intestate or without a valid will, the disposition of their probate property will be controlled by the laws of intestacy of Massachusetts (or whatever state the decedent resided in at death). The administration of the estate involves the executor or personal representative, beneficiaries, creditors and a probate judge.
Probate property is all property that was held individually and that does not have a beneficiary designation.
It All Starts With The Last Will and Testament
Again, each state has its own probate process. However, the first step in probate generally is to produce a will. A probate attorney can help you to determine if all of the heirs will consent to have it probated. If there’s not going to be any objection, the attorney can prepare the probate documents and have the waivers signed by the distributees. Once they sign and notarize the consent, the attorney can take the will with the probate documents and have it filed.
After a will is deemed valid, the executor of the estate and the attorney will file certain documentation with the court. This might include the will, a certified copy of the death certificate, a list of names and addresses of the decedent’s heirs and any known creditors.
Creditors will be paid first, then the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs. After any required tax returns are filed, the executor will ask the court to close the estate.