How Long Does the Probate Process Take in Massachusetts?

When someone in Massachusetts dies (the “decedent”), their property and ownership rights are passed along to heirs and beneficiaries through a process known as probate. The extent to which a decedent’s estate will need to be probated depends upon how their property was titled and if they had a will. In most instances, at least some of the assets from a decedent’s estate eventually wind up being distributed in probate court.

Straight-forward cases involving a very small estate and few heirs can usually be resolved in less than a year. However, more complicated or highly contested cases, like those that fall under intestate succession laws, can drag on in court for years or even decades. Unfortunately, a lengthy and emotional probate process can be very hard on loved ones who are still mourning the death of the decedent.

What Factors Lengthen the Probate Process?

The circumstances surrounding every decedent’s estate are unique and ultimately influence how much time is required to go through the probate process. Factors that can lengthen probate process include:

Creditors who have one year in Massachusetts to make a claim against the estate.

  • People named as heirs in the will who cannot be located, have passed away or otherwise become incapacitated.
  • When beneficiaries aren’t aware of what assets or property was owned by the decedent and time is spent searching for documents like stock certificates or deeds to property held in another state or country.
  • Disagreements over what to do with a piece of real estate that involve court time to get the issue resolved.
  • Disputes over who should serve as the personal representative of the estate because one wasn’t clearly designated by the decedent.
  • Disagreements over the validity of the will itself that has to be settled in court first.
  • Disputes over how real estate title is held.

If a person dies without a will and then delays arise while trying to determine and locate next of kin or heirs during intestate succession proceedings.

These complications can hold up the probate process for years. Then you have variables like court waiting periods and statutory time frames that can further lengthen probate proceedings.

Preventing Delays in the Probate Process

Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid putting your loved ones through a lengthy and potentially heated probate process after you die, including:

    • Make sure you keep updated records on all family members, their relationships to you, and by including current contact information for each one. This is notably important when you don’t have a surviving spouse or any children, but do have other living relatives.
    • Compile an updated list of all your assets, how they are being held and where they’re located.
    • Speak with your family members beforehand about your plans for distributing your estate to minimize future disagreements.
    • Designate a personal representative who will administer your estate after you die.
    • Make sure that you have a clear title for any real property that you own, and that you have written down the location of assets like real estate titles, stock certificates or savings bonds.
  • Talk to an experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney about ways to bypass the probate process altogether.

The average probate process in Massachusetts lasts between 18 months and two years. But you can avoid putting your loved ones through such a lengthy and emotional process by drafting an estate plan with clear instructions based on your final wishes.

Massachusetts Estate Planning & Probate Law Advisors

The best way to shorten the amount of time that your estate spends in probate, or avoid it completely, is to plan-ahead by drafting a rock-solid estate plan working side-by-side with an experienced estate planning attorney at The Sullivan Firm, P.C.

If we can assist you, call our office today to arrange a FREE exploratory meeting at: (978) 325-2721. Or, you can also conveniently contact us by email now.