There is a very good chance that you will find yourself involved in the probate of an estate at some time during your life. Whether that involves comes as a result of your appointment as the Executor of an estate or because you are a beneficiary/heir, you probably want to know how long it will take for the estate to get through probate. Although every estate is unique, the North Andover probate attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices explain how long the Massachusetts probate process typically takes.
Understanding the Probate Process
Probate is the term given to the legal process that eventually transfers those estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Most estates are required to go through some form of probate. Along with transferring estate assets, probate also serves to ensure that debts of the estate, including federal gift and estate taxes, are paid as well as providing a forum for resolving any challenges to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If an estate is required to go through the formal probate process, common steps in that process include:
- Identifying, locating, and valuing all estate assets.
- Opening the probate of the estate by filing a petition, along with an official death certificate, in the appropriate court.
- Notifying creditors of the estate that probate is underway.
- Identifying, locating, and notifying beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate that the estate is being probated.
- Reviewing and approving or denying creditor claims.
- Prioritizing and paying approved claims.
- Selling assets, if necessary, to pay creditors.
- Defending any challenges to the Will or litigating any claims made by creditors that were denied.
- Calculating any paying federal (and state, if applicable) gift and estate taxes
- Effectuating the legal transfer of the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate.
How Long Will It Take for an Estate to Get through Probate in Massachusetts?
Because every estate is unique, the best way to get an idea how long it will take to probate a specific estate is to consult with an experienced probate attorney. In Massachusetts, you can expect it to take a minimum or about four to six months to probate even a relatively simple estate if that estate is required to go through formal probate. The reason for this is that creditors have up to a year from the date of death to file claims against the estate. Because the probate process cannot wrap up until that time period runs and all claims have been reviewed, you can expect it take a minimum of a year for a relatively simple estate. In addition, several other factors can impact the time it takes to probate an estate, such as:
- Whether the estate is eligible to use a small estate alternative to formal probate. Like most states, Massachusetts offers an alternative to formal probate for small estates that qualify. The ability to use a small estate alternative can dramatically shorten the time necessary to get through the probate process.
- The overall size and complexity of the estate. As a rule, the more valuable and complex the estate’s probate assets are, the longer it will take to probate the estate. A large estate can easily take more than a year to probate.
- Whether or not the decedent made an effort to avoid probate. A well thought out estate plan can include several helpful probate avoidance tools and strategies that can significantly reduce the time the estate spends in probate. Leaving behind as few probate assets as possible, for example, is an excellent probate avoidance strategy. Some assets, such as assets held in a trust, are considered non-probate assets and bypass the probate process altogether.
- The presence or absence of conflict and litigation. If someone files a Will contest, the ensuing litigation can add months, even years, to the amount of time it takes to probate the estate.
Contact North Andover Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about the Massachusetts probate process, contact the North Andover probate attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.
Along with trust assets, other non-probate assets include: proceeds of a life insurance policy, certain types of jointly held property, funds held in accounts designated as “Payable on Death (POD),” and retirement/pension accounts.
If the decedent left behind a valid Will, the person named as the Executor will oversee the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, a competent adult will need to be appointed by the appropriate judge to handle the administration of the estate.
The time it takes to get through probate can mean that loved ones don’t receive their intended inheritance until months, even years, after a decedent’s death. In addition, the costs involved with formal probate can significantly diminish the value of the estate that is ultimately passed down to loved ones.