There is a very good chance that you will find yourself in the Massachusetts probate court at some point in your life. You could be there as the Executor or Personal Representative of the estate of someone who recently died. You could also be there because you are a beneficiary or heir of an estate. Regardless of the reason, it can be somewhat intimidating to find yourself involved in a legal matter in a court with which you are unfamiliar. Although every probate process is as unique as the decedent, there are some similarities among probate cases handled in the Massachusetts probate court.
Massachusetts Probate Court Basics
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Courts have jurisdiction over family-related and probate matters, including:
- Child support
- Termination of parental rights
- Abuse prevention
- Wills and estates
- Changes of name
If you are involved in the probate areas of the court, you are likely probating a Will, litigating a trust, or possible petitioning for guardianship and/or conservatorship.
Probating a Will in the Massachusetts Probate Court
The most likely reason for you to be in the Massachusetts probate court is for the probate of a Last Will and Testament. When someone dies, the law requires the estate the decedent left behind to go through the legal process known as “probate.” If were named by the decedent as the Executor of the estate, or you volunteer to be the Personal Representative (PR) of an intestate estate (one in which no Will was left behind), your job will be to oversee the entire probate process. As such, you will become intimately involved with the probate court. If you are a beneficiary or heir of the estate, you may never have any direct involvement with the probate court unless you contest the Will.
As the Executor/PR of an estate, however, your first interaction with the court should occur not long after the decedent’s death. You will be responsible for initiating the probate process by submitting the Will to the court for authentication and/or simply petitioning to open the probate of the estate. Throughout the probate process the probate court will act as oversight. You may be required to submit an inventory of the decedent’s estate assets, for example, in the beginning of the process. You will also be required to provide notice to potential creditors of the estate and review claims filed by them. If there is a dispute regarding a claim, the Massachusetts probate court will hear the dispute and rule on it. In the event that the Will itself is contested, the ensuing Will contest will be litigated in the probate court. Finally, you may be required to submit a final inventory to the court before the remaining estate assets can be distributed.
Petitioning for Guardianship and/or Conservatorship in the Massachusetts Probate Court
The other common reason you might find yourself in the Massachusetts probate court is if you wish to petition the court for guardianship and/or conservatorship of an older adult. As a guardian, you would have the legal authority to make daily decisions for the individual, referred to as a “ward.” As a conservator, you would have the legal authority to make financial decisions relating to the estate of the ward. You could petition for either or both. The court’s role is to hear testimony and review evidence to decide if a guardian and/or conservator is actually warranted and, if so, whether or not you would be an appropriate person to appoint to the position.
Litigating a Trust in the Massachusetts Probate Court
Although a trust is not part of the probate of an estate, there are times when a trust agreement does in up in probate court. This most often occurs when there is a request to terminate a trust, a provision of the trust is the subject of dispute, or when the trust ends up without a Trustee. In any of these situations the Massachusetts probate court could be called upon to resolve the issue.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the Massachusetts probate court, contact the experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.