Adoption of the Uniform Probate Code in Massachusetts brings big changes

Last year, Massachusetts adopted the Uniform Probate Code bringing about sweeping changes to various legal matters within the state, such as:

  • Probate administration
  • Estate planning
  • Wills and trusts
  • Guardianships and conservatorships
  • Intestacy succession

The Uniform Probate Code (UPC) was initially created in the 1960s by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in an effort to create uniformity of probate law and administration for all 50 states. Over the years, various modifications have been made to the Code - some as recent as 2008 - and each state may adopt portions or all of the UPC as it decides.

Less than 20 states in the U.S. have adopted the entire UPC, replacing their own state-specific laws with those of the UPC. However, the remaining states have adopted portions of the Code, picking only those provisions they wish to change and retaining their own laws for the remainder.

In early 2012, Massachusetts completely overhauled its estate administration and probate laws by adopting the UPC, thereby doing away with many laws dating back hundreds of years. The wealth of case law interpreting the former laws remain, thus allowing the state to retain those practices which have served its residents well.

There are a vast number of changes to Massachusetts probate laws but following are just two highlights:

Formality of administration

A decedent's survivors have the opportunity to choose varying degrees of formalities as the decedent's estate is settled, depending on the individual circumstances. The available options are briefly described as follows:

  • Informal administration: When the beneficiaries have an amicable relationship and there is no controversy surrounding the estate, this informal process may be less expensive and much quicker than other options.
  • Formal administration: Very similar to the former probate process, this option requires formal notifications and waiting periods to allow for objections to proposed settlements.
  • Supervised administration: Appropriate for complex and controversial estate settlements, this option requires constant court supervision.
  • Voluntary administration: This process is limited to estates that contain no real property and a value that does not exceed $25,000 plus one car. There is very little court involvement.

New intestacy provisions

The default provisions for those who die intestate - without a will - have changed also. A surviving spouse's share is much larger than previously provided and provisions have been added for blended families. Other types of descendants have gained distribution rights on a per capita basis determined by each generation level.

Seek legal assistance

With the major changes to the probate laws of the state, it is important to contact an experienced Massachusetts estate planning lawyer if you have questions regarding your estate or the estate of a loved one. There are numerous changes not covered by this article that may greatly affect the outcome of an estate settlement. A knowledgeable probate lawyer can help.