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Having a will does not mean family can avoid the probate process

It is a misconception that by having a will, family members will not have to go through the Massachusetts courts in order to receive their inheritances. The will must still go through the probate process before that can happen. That could take up to, or more than, a year to complete. Before you complete your estate plan, it may be a good idea to make sure that your family members understand what to expect after your death.

This is due to the fact that here in Massachusetts, creditors have up to a year to file claims against the estate. Before that time begins to run, however, a probate petition will need to be filed, at which time the executor of the will is appointed. Once that step is complete, the notice to creditors is sent and the clock begins.

While the time for creditors' claims runs, the assets of the estate will be gathered, inventoried and appraised. Experts may need to be called in to help with this process. Estate taxes and debts will then be paid, along with any other claims. After these tasks are complete, the executor is required to file an account (including receipts and expenditures) for the court's approval. Only then can the remaining assets of the estate be distributed and the estate closed.

If your loved one appointed you as the executor of his or her estate, you would most likely benefit from the assistance of an attorney. Even though there are certain requirements that determine the minimum amount of time an estate will be open, additional delays can occur. The probate process can become even more complicated if one of the potential heirs decides to challenge the validity of the will.

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