How long does probate take in Massachusetts?

Probate is the legal process of transferring the ownership of a deceased’s estate to its rightful heir. In Massachusetts, probate can take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years (sometimes longer), depending on the exact circumstances. 

In this article, we’ll explore what the probate process looks like, what causes delays, how long it takes, and whether there are anyways you can speed up probate. 

What happens during the probate process in Massachusetts?

While every individual’s probate experience varies, there are three key steps that you will likely go through when probating an estate: 

Open probate

To open probate, the executor (more commonly known as the legal representative) must file a petition for probate to open probate. 

The representative must also sign a petition stating that they accept the will as authentic. The court will then review and accept or reject the will. 

If the will is accepted, the legal representative can probate the estate. If the court rejects the will, they will notify the rightful heirs. If there is no will, the court will follow intestacy laws to determine who has the right to ownership. 

The first step to probate an estate can take up to two months to complete and even longer depending on how quickly the descendants respond and whether the rightful heir is easily identifiable.

 In Massachusetts, descendants have a year to file for probate before the state claims property ownership. 

Paying creditors

Typically, the deceased will still have debts in their name. The legal representative will be responsible for making repayments if the creditors claim against the estate. In Massachusetts, creditors must claim against the estate within 12 months. 

If the representative rejects the claims, creditors have a year to file a legal claim to recover any lost debts. The creditors must resolve these claims before any assets are distributed. 

Paying creditors is one of the more lengthy steps in the probate process, as there can be a lot of back and forth between the creditors and the personal representative. It could take years, depending on whether or not any issues arise.

Filing tax returns 

The personal representative must also file for any federal and state tax returns for any income earned by the estate throughout the probate process. 

They are also responsible for taking care of any tax returns on income earned in the last year of the deceased’s life. 

Once the tax returns are accepted, the personal representative will receive a closing letter from the IRS confirming the completion of probate.

The final step of probate can take up to 4 to 12 months, depending on whether the IRS decides to audit your tax returns. 

How long does probate take in Massachusetts?

There is no straightforward answer to how long probate takes in Massachusetts, as the length of time it takes to close is entirely dependent on each case. 

The best-case scenario would be 12 months, but it can take up to two years to close probate more often than not. 

Factors that could delay probate

When there isn’t an authentic will, distributing a deceased’s estate isn’t always straightforward as following intestacy laws. 

Even if it is clear who the rightful heir is, there are still factors outside of the scope of intestacy laws that could delay probate, including: 

  • Beneficiaries and heirs: If the rightful heirs or named beneficiaries can’t be located or are disabled, probate is put on hold until they are found, guardians are appointed as representatives, or their estate is opened. Named beneficiaries can further delay the process if they can’t decide what to do with the estate. 
  • Creditors: Sometimes creditors can deliberately delay probate, especially if the representative has rejected the claim. The creditors must resolve legal claims before any assets are distributed.
  • When the heirs are still being determined: If it is not immediately clear who will inherit the state, the representative is responsible for finding any stock certificates or supporting documents proving the rightful heir. 
  • Disputes about the will’s legitimacy: Unfortunately, there are times when a will is contested. In this case, most representatives choose not to dispute the will as it can stall probate progress. If the representative decides to defend the will, the first step is to dismiss the case on federal grounds. If this doesn’t happen, then the defendant will pursue legal action. 

Can you speed up the probate process?

While there are no set ways to speed up the probate process as it is circumstantial, there are ways to ensure that it is as smooth as possible. 

Following these tips will minimize mistakes and mitigate any unnecessary delays caused by negligence. 

Additionally, some instances allow for simplified probate, though you must check whether you are legible. With this in mind, here are some ways you can speed up the probate process: 

  • Hiring a lawyer: Probate involves a lot of legal documents and possible tax returns. Get these wrong, and you could face an audit or legal disputes that could take years to resolve depending on the severity of the issue. Because of this, it can help to have a lawyer who can review your documents before you submit them.
  • Small estates: In Massachusetts, state law dictates that small estates can complete probate in 2 months. Some small estates are exempt from probate completely. In Massachusetts, you can also file informal probate if you meet the requirements. 
  • Understanding your responsibilities as a representative: If you’ve never had to probate an estate before, it can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you are unclear on all your responsibilities. To protect yourself, learn your duties and rights as a representative. That way, if they are any legal claims or delays, then you know the best way forward. 

Do you need a lawyer for probate? 

Due to the delicate nature of probate, it can be beneficial to hire a probate attorney. Your need for a lawyer will increase if you are subject to any legal claims from creditors or you want to dispute a rejected will. 

Overall, hiring a lawyer will ensure that legal documents are reviewed before they are submitted to the court, minimizing the chance for mistakes and reducing the time it takes to finalize probate. 

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