, February 2, 2012 4:13 pm
The conventional wisdom around the country is that Massachusetts is generally “out in front” on many issues of the day. Legalizing gay marriage and instituting Romneycare come to mind. OK…maybe we’ve got that label for good reason. But that hasn’t been the case when somebody dies and the state’s probate laws kick in. Downright antiquated is how some have described the Massachusetts probate process. But thanks to the state legislature, our probate rules are now governed by the Uniform Probate Code, and big changes have arrived.
Intestacy laws have changed. If you die without a will, the state’s intestacy laws lay out who will inherit what. (Don’t be a knucklehead. Get your will done this year.) Under the old laws, your surviving spouse would inherit 50% and the spouse’s kids would inherit the other 50%. But now, if the spouse’s kids were also the children of the deceased, the spouse will inherit 100%. I guess the thinking is that the spouse will need the assets more now. Once the surviving spouse passes, the children will inherit what’s left. Sorry, Junior.
Some protection from creditors. The new law provides for “exempt property”, thereby protected from creditor claims. Up to $10,000 of personal property and $18,000 for a “family allowance” are now provided while the probate process plays out.
New probate terms. No longer will “executors” be running the show when an estate is probated. The new, more contemporary term is “personal representative”.
Probate process will be a speedier. I’ll say. In the old days, it could take up to 45 days for a personal representative to be appointed by a court. Now, it can happen as quickly as seven days. If there are no disputes, no sense letting the grass grow.
Probate shorted from 50 years. Unbelievably, Massachusetts probate law used to allow up to 50 years for an estate to be probated. Sounds like an effective delaying tactic if, say, Fred’s children were dragging things out so their evil aunt, Gertrude, wouldn’t inherit Daddy’s millions. Until the new rules, estates must be settled within three years. So, unless Gertrude is on life support, I’d say the kids are out-of-luck.
So, like so much in life, you and your family will be better off if you plan now for things during your lifetime and beyond. I never like surprises. Good luck. Until next time, here’s to good planning!