How Changes in Massachusetts Law Will Impact Your Estate Plan

The media often calls us to ensure our loved ones are provided for in the event of our death by preparing an estate plan. From Forbes to CNN, these outlets all offer valuable tips and guidance regarding the necessity of will formation. However, what happens if the law significantly changes after an estate plan has been put in place?

The people of Massachusetts are about to learn the answer to this question. After almost two decades of debate, significant changes to the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) will be implemented and operable at the end of March. These changes are drastic and affect many areas of probate law.

Conceptual Adjustments to Probate Law in Massachusetts

Initially, the court linked administration of an estate, with or without a will, to the appointment of a fiduciary to execute the will's provisions and oversight from the court from start to finish.

The MUPC "uncouples" these elements and allows an estate plan to be executed without the appointment of a fiduciary.

Specific Changes to Probate Law Intended to Make Execution of Wills Easier

In addition to this broader change, the MUPC will specifically affect many areas of procedure and planning in an attempt to "simplify the probate process for families and courts while expediting the process for administering estates," according to Lisa C. Goodheart, President of the Boston Bar Association.

Two major changes that aid this transition are:

  • Creation of an "in and out" relationship with the court
  • Increased control over judicial intervention

The Probate and Family Court Department of the Massachusetts Court System notes this "in and out" relationship allows the court to address individual questions. As a result, the entire estate does not require court oversight and families can control the level of judicial involvement.

This new level of control allows heirs the ability to choose minimal involvement for simple, uncontested matters while leaving the option for increased judicial presence for complicated, contentious estate plans.

Experts Note MUPC Provisions Will Likely Cause Problems

Since the administrative process is more flexible, the Massachusetts Bar Association is calling all estate planners to be extra vigilant, particularly regarding the newly implemented strict statutes of limitations. This includes a three year limit on the ability to present a will for probate and termination of the ability to claim fraud two years after the date of discovery and five years after commission of the fraud.

If matters are not handled promptly, the ability to contest an issue can be lost. As a result, it is important to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure documents are properly prepared and assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes.