The time required to probate a will depends on more than the executor’s diligence in getting the job done. The court and the IRS are often involved and their participation might affect the amount of time it takes to settle an estate. In Massachusetts, much of the work in probating a will is completed within approximately nine months, but the entire process usually takes 1 to 2 years.
Probate is opened in Massachusetts with the filing of the will and a petition requesting that the will be accepted as authentic. It can take a few weeks for the court to make this decision. Notices must be sent to all the beneficiaries in the will, as well as any heirs who may have inherited if the deceased hadn’t left a will, letting them know that the will has been presented for probate. If the court approves the will, it will give Letters Testamentary to the person named in it as executor, legally authorizing him to probate the estate. This entire process can take up to two months.
Read More: Can an Executor Probate a Will Without a Lawyer?
Payment of Creditors
The next time-consuming hurdle involved in probating a will involves notifying the deceased’s creditors that she has passed away and that her estate is being resolved. They have up to a year to make claims against the estate for payment of whatever the deceased owed them. The executor then decides if the claims are legitimate and either pays them or rejects them. Massachusetts also allows creditors a period of one year to sue the estate to recover debts if the executor denies them payment. If a creditor files such a lawsuit, the matter must be resolved before the estate’s assets are distributed to the beneficiaries in the will.
Federal and state income tax returns must be filed for any income earned by the estate during probate and individually for any income earned by the deceased during his last year of life. However, this is not as time-consuming as federal estate taxes, which must also be paid on the value of the estate if it exceeds certain federal limits. An estate tax return must be filed within nine months of the date of death. After receipt of the return, the IRS will issue a closing letter, allowing the executor to finalize probate. This can take an additional four months to a year, depending on whether or not the IRS decides to audit the return.
Massachusetts statutes allow very small estates to be probated in a simplified process that takes much less time. If the total value of the deceased’s probate assets, or those that do not pass directly to a beneficiary, such as life insurance proceeds and some real estate held jointly with a spouse or other person, does not exceed $15,000 plus one automobile, simplified probate can be completed within two months.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.