It could take anywhere from months to years for a probate to be completed. During that time, family members will not have access to or the benefit of at least some of the assets in a Massachusetts estate. Fortunately, there are estate-planning tools available that will keep most, if not all, of a person's assets from going through the probate process.
Some assets are easier to keep out of probate than others. Jointly owned assets will typically pass to the surviving property owner by operation of law. These often include property such as the marital home and bank accounts. Retirement accounts and insurance policies often require their owners to fill out beneficiary designation forms, which identify the party or parties who are to receive their proceeds. These distributions are made outside of probate as well.
Many Massachusetts residents choose to use trusts to transfer their property. A revocable living trust can be created during an individual's lifetime. Since it is revocable, assets can be moved in and out of it as needed during the lifetime of the trust's creator. Other provisions can also be changed as well. Once the person passes away, however, it can no longer be changed.
Many people believe that a will is sufficient to transfer and distribute their assets after death. While that is true to a certain extent, the probate process can still be time-consuming and expensive. Making arrangements in advance that will make the process as short and cost effective as possible will most likely be appreciated by surviving family members. In addition, the person will know that his or her family will have access to the property as quickly as possible.
Source: nasdaq.com, "5 Smart Estate-Planning Steps to Avoid Probate", Feb. 10, 2016