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By Michael Vosilla
Senior Associate

Following the death of a loved one, you may be facing a number of challenges with settling their affairs. The probate process may be one of the most intimidating hurdles you’ll have to clear. This process involves thoroughly accounting for and valuing the decedent’s assets, settling debts with creditors, determining tax implications, and distributing the assets. Depending on your specific circumstances, this process may take more time than you’d like, likely upwards of a year, even if your loved one had a valid will or estate plan in place.

How Probate Starts

The probate process begins with filing a petition in probate court after the decedent’s death. If you’re the executor or administrator of your loved one’s estate, you’ll need to file the petition in the court where they lived at the time of their death. In addition to filing the petition, you must:

  • Submit the Will – If the decedent had a will prepared, you’ll attach this document to the petition and ask the court to admit the will to assist and guide probate. If there isn’t an existing will, the decedent’s assets transfer to their closest living relatives, but the probate process will take longer.
  • Notify Potential Creditors – After the decedent’s passing, you must notify their creditors of the probate petition so that they can file claims against the estate seeking repayment. 
  • Inform Interested Parties – The executor or administrator of the estate must notify beneficiaries or heirs that probate proceedings are underway. In some cases, this may be the first notification they receive of the decedent’s death.

Factors Affecting Probate Timelines

Many factors can influence the length of the probate process. Every estate and its administrative circumstances are different, and there’s no universal timeline, so it’s essential to be patient as the process unfolds. Some factors affecting probate timelines include: 

  • Estate Size – Larger estates with numerous or high-value assets or complex investments can take longer to go through probate because it takes time to evaluate and assess each asset’s value thoroughly and accurately. 
  • Creditor Claims – Creditors typically have a year to file claims against the estate, and having multiple creditor claims against an estate can make it take longer to settle outstanding debts. Resolving complex claims can take longer than you might expect. 
  • Distribution Disputes – Beneficiaries or other family members may challenge the will’s validity, object to the executor’s decisions, or dispute other critical aspects of the asset distribution process. The need to resolve these disputes through mediation or negotiations may extend the probate process.
  • Tax Concerns – Navigating estate taxes can also delay the probate process. Massachusetts has an estate tax, and qualifying estates must pay it or face potential penalties.
  • Court Scheduling – Backlogged court dockets with heavy caseloads can affect your anticipated timeline, resulting in scheduling delays. The next available hearing date could be months away, meaning a likely postponement of asset distribution. 

Mitigating Delays and Managing Expectations

Dealing with probate can be frustrating, and it may feel like there’s no end in sight. You have a few options for responding to these obstacles, including: 

  • Professional Legal Help – A probate lawyer can help you track deadlines, navigate court scheduling and proceedings, and handle negotiation or mediation, making the process run more smoothly and removing considerable stress from your life.
  • Clear Communication – You’ll need to talk to many individuals throughout the probate process, and keeping everyone updated and aware of the proceedings and terms of the will and probate petition can prevent misunderstandings and limit potential delays and disputes. 
  • Plan Ahead – Knowing what to expect about the estate and its assets will help you make decisions and solve problems effectively when starting the probate process. Staying organized and flexible will help you manage expectations regarding asset distribution and the probate timeline, preparing you for unforeseen situations and helping you avoid unnecessary stress.

Contact an Experienced Massachusetts Probate Attorney

Managing the probate process after a loved one’s death can be stressful, confusing, and overwhelming. At LaFountain & Wollman P.C., we support families as they navigate this difficult situation by handling critical legal steps. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for your family.

About the Author
Attorney Michael Vosilla is LaFountain & Wollman, P.C.’s Senior Associate, who currently resides in Brighton. As an immigration lawyer, Attorney Vosilla has secured green cards and citizenship for countless clients, and he is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).