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Probate in Massachusetts: Why Does It Take So Long in Some Cases?
Probate, which is the legal process for distributing the deceased’s property after his or her death, has a reputation in Massachusetts for its long duration. But is this always the case? If not, then how long does it take to probate a will in the state of Massachusetts?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut way of answering that question because the length of the probate process depends on a variety of factors. Some estates settle or close within weeks or months, while others can take several years. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “an estate must be probated within three years of the decedent’s death.”
The probate process in Massachusetts includes many steps, which are necessary to transfer the property and assets from the deceased’s ownership into the names of living heirs, as well as pay debts and taxes.
Multiple factors can delay the probate process, which is why it is often necessary to be represented by a Massachusetts probate lawyer to eliminate the delay-causing factors and make sure that any complications that may arise in the course of probate are resolved promptly.
Some of you might be wondering, “How long do probate wills take in Massachusetts?” To answer that question, let’s break down the probate timeline and the length of each step.
How Long Does Probate Take in Massachusetts?
The time necessary to probate a will in Massachusetts depends on many factors, including the role of both the court and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in settling or closing an estate.
Typically, it takes anywhere from nine to 12 months to probate a will in most cases when represented by a probate attorney, though some probate cases can take up to two years to settle an estate.
To understand how long it takes to probate a will, it’s critical to dissect the process and review each step.
1. Opening Probate in Massachusetts
When opening probate in Massachusetts, the personal representative of the estate must file the will along with a petition requesting that the will be accepted as authentic. Typically, it takes several weeks for the court to either approve or deny the will.
If the court decides to accept the will as authentic, the person named in the will as executor will be legally authorized to begin the process of probating the estate. Meanwhile, notices will be sent to all the beneficiaries mentioned in the will. If the deceased didn’t leave a will before his or her death, notices would be sent to any heirs who may have inheritance rights.
This entire process can last up to two months.
2. Notifying and Paying Creditors
The second time-consuming step in the probate process is informing the deceased’s creditors of the death and beginning of the probate process. In Massachusetts, creditors have up to 12 months to make claims against the estate for payment of the debt.
After the claims have been made, the executor (personal representative of the estate) then decides whether these claims are legitimate to either pay or deny them. If payment of the debt has been rejected by the personal representative, creditors have a year to file a legal claim against the estate to recover debts. If such a lawsuit is filed by a creditor, the legal matter must be resolved by the court before the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries.
As you can imagine, this step alone could take years, especially if the creditors are deliberately delaying the process.
3. Filing Tax Returns
Another lengthy step in probating a will in Massachusetts is filing federal and state tax returns for any income earned by the estate in the course of the probate. In addition to this, the estate must file tax returns for any income earned by the deceased during his or her last year of life.
Note: An estate tax return must be filed within nine months of the death.
It’s advised to seek legal advice from a Massachusetts probate lawyer to ensure that no errors are made in the process of filing tax returns when probating a will. Any errors or inaccuracies will cause unnecessary delays in the probate process.
After receiving the tax return, the IRS will issue a closing letter, which allows the personal representative of the estate to finalize probate. This step typically takes from four to 12 months, depending on whether the IRS decides to use the tax return for an audit.
Factors That Cause Delays in the Probate
Quite a few factors can cause delays in probating a will and distributing assets:
- Massachusetts law gives creditors a year to make a claim against the estate regarding the payment of the debt.
- If a creditor’s claim has been rejected by the executor, the creditor has another 12 months from the date of the rejection to sue the estate.
- If some beneficiaries and heirs named in the estate plan cannot be located, passed away, or became disabled, the probate process stalls until they are located, their own estate is opened, or their guardians are appointed.
- When it is not immediately clear what property was owned by the decedent, the personal representative of the estate will have to look for stock certificates and other documents proving the decedent’s ownership of a property or asset in Massachusetts and other states or countries.
- When the beneficiaries named in the will cannot come to an agreement regarding what to do with the inherited asset, the process will be delayed until the consensus is reached.
- Any disputes about who should serve as the personal representative of the estate can also put the probate process on pause until the issue is resolved.
- Disagreements over the validity of the will can also throw a monkey wrench into probating a will.
- If the decedent did not leave a will, it could take months to determine and locate the heirs.
Is There a Way to Speed Up the Probate Process?
Massachusetts law allows small estates to complete probate within two months. However, not all “small estates” are eligible to be probated in a simplified process.
The simplified probate applies when the total value of the deceased’s assets or those that do not pass directly to a beneficiary, including but not limited to real estate held jointly with a spouse, are worth less than $15,000 plus one automobile,
How Can a Massachusetts Probate Lawyer Help?
All participants involved in the probate process can benefit from seeking help from a skilled probate lawyer in Massachusetts:
- The executor (personal representative of the estate) should get legal guidance to ensure that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities in accordance with Massachusetts law;
- The beneficiaries and heirs mentioned in the will need help from an attorney to ensure that the executor fulfills his or her obligations properly to protect their inheritance rights; and
- Individuals looking to contest a will and prove that the will is not legally valid can also benefit from hiring a lawyer, as they need to gather compelling evidence in order to convince the court not to probate a will.
Let our Massachusetts probate lawyer help you steer through the myriad of probate laws, protect your rights, and ensure that the estate is administered and probated appropriately. Schedule a free phone consultation by contacting The Law Offices of Richard Mucci. Complete this contact form or call at 781-729-3999.