When a loved one passes away without an estate plan, or with only a simple will, their families
must put their estate through a process called “probate.”
Massachusetts probate is a court-managed proceeding where a Will can be verified and assets
distributed according to the will or the law of intestacy if there was no Will. While our estate
planning practice focuses on helping clients avoid this process by utilizing techniques such as
living trusts, the majority of estates without such preplanning will have to go through probate.
We are often asked to help guide families through this process and most of those families later
choose to do comprehensive planning with our law firm after having gone through the probate
process on behalf of a loved one.
No two probate proceeding are ever the same, but they always involve locating the Will and/
or making a filing with the Massachusetts Probate Court. Once the Will has been accepted, an
administrator will be appointed by the court. After that, all of the heirs and creditors need to be
formally noticed (in writing), allowing them the opportunity to review the Will and make any
appropriate challenges or contests.
Next, the assets have to be gathered, debts and taxes have to be paid, and only then can assets
can be distributed in accordance with the Will or intestacy laws. While many assets will pass
through probate, some assets, like life insurance and retirement accounts, will pass directly to
the named beneficiary. Other kinds of assets, like those held in joint tenancy, will pass directly
to the other joint tenant. The important thing to remember is that all of these assets are counted
as “part of the estate” for purposes of calculating whether taxes are due and/or as part of any
existing or future MassHealth (Medicaid) applications. You should also know that estates over a
certain threshold have to be probated, whether they are “taxable” or not.
As your trusted advisor, we can help you navigate this process and help reduce the time, expense
and frustration associated with probate as much as possible. If a loved one has recently passed
away and you would like a no-cost, confidential consultation to discuss the next steps, please call
our office to schedule a meeting.
We are here to help you through this difficult time.