MA Probate Law
Probate is the process by which property owned by a decedent is passed to his or her heirs after the decedent’s death. Property which the decedent individually owned before death must pass through probate for ownership to pass to his or her heirs. Jointly owned property and the proceeds of life insurance, retirement accounts, and annuities pass to the surviving joint owner or named beneficiaries without the necessity of probate.
In Massachusetts, probate occurs in the “Probate and Family Court” in the county where the deceased last resided. From start to finish, the process oftentimes takes up to one (1) year or more to complete. The court process provides for the collection and preservation of the probate assets; the payment of all debts and taxes owed by the estate; and the determination of the proper distribution of the assets. The process usually starts when someone files a petition for the allowance of the will. If there is no will, an interested party, such a family member, may file a petition for the administration of the estate. With large estates, or when there are complications, it is highly advisable to hire a probate attorney to guide you through the process.
The first step in the Probate process is to file the original Will, death certificate, Petition for Probate, Bond Application, and Military Affidavit in the local probate court. If the executor named in the Will does not live in Massachusetts, a resident of Massachusetts must be named as the local agent. Generally, the appropriate court is the Probate Court for the county in which the decedent resided. The court fee for starting a new probate is $230.00. This fee must be paid at the time of filing.
A copy of the Petition for Probate and a copy of the death certificate must be sent to the Division of Medical Assistance, PO Box 15205, Worcester, MA 01615.
Once these papers have been filed and the filing fee paid, the court will send a Citation to either the attorney who opened the probate file, or the named executor if no attorney has been used. This citation is the legal notice that is published in the newspaper. The court will direct in which newspaper the Citation must be published, and a copy of the citation must also be sent to the heirs listed in the Petition for Probate.
The Citation has the date by which anyone who wishes to object to either the Will or the appointment of executor, must file their paperwork in the Probate Court. Unless an objection is filed, after the date specified in the Citation, the Will is considered accepted and the executor appointment becomes official. Court certified copies of the executor appointment may be ordered from the Court. Each certified copy is $20.00. Most financial institutions will want to see an original certified copy of the appointment of the executor, but most will be happy to make a copy and return the original.