What happens if it’s too late to file for probate?

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2023 | probate

 The death of a loved one is usually a stressful and emotional time. You may spend several weeks in shock, and your grief can last years or even a lifetime.

With everything going on, thinking about legal issues such as how to administer your loved one’s estate is probably not your top priority. This is understandable.

How long do I have to file?

Massachusetts law states that a person’s estate must be probated within three years of their death. Sometimes, for various reasons, this does not happen, and the three years quickly pass.

While you will generally not face any penalties for not probating an estate, there usually comes a time when something happens that triggers the need for the estate to be administrated.

For example, you might be living in a house that is still in your loved one’s name, but circumstances change, and you need to sell the house. You will likely learn you cannot do that if the house is still in the name of someone who has passed away.

The good news it that even if the three-year deadline to probate an estate has passed, you could still file for a late and limited probate proceeding.

Late and limited probate

A late and limited probate proceeding in Massachusetts is designed for estates that were not probated within the three-year deadline.

Whether you need to file for a late and limited probate depends on when your loved one dies. You only need to file for this type of probate if they died after March 21, 2012.

If they died before that date, you could file for a standard probate proceeding, since the law before that date allowed probate to be filed up to 50 years after someone died.

What limited probate means

Although you may file for a late and limited probate, as the name implies, the probate proceeding is limited in scope.

In a normal probate proceeding, a personal representative has wide authority to possess, sell or distribute assets according to the terms of the decedent’s will or probate laws.

However, in a limited probate proceeding, a personal representative’s duties are typically limited to confirming that the assets are now owned by the proper parties.

The probate process, even a limited one, can get complex, so it is always best to have professional help.