The costs and delays involved with probating a will are usually what lead people to form estate plans in the first place. The goal for most is to reduce the time and money their heirs and beneficiaries have to go through before inheriting property.

In case you are new to estate planning, avoiding probate cures more than just a mere inconvenience. Most working families do not have the time or money necessary to deal with a lengthy and confusing estate distribution.

But how long does probate process actually take, and what’s the typical amount of time a personal representative (formerly executor) should expect to wait?

Is Probate Process in Massachusetts Time Consuming?

By most people’s standards probate process is quite time consuming in a number of ways. For the personal representative, probate is time consuming in the sense that the various responsibilities in administering an estate take up a lot of time. For the beneficiaries, probate process is time consuming because they must wait a long time before they receive an inheritance.

But how long probate process takes will vary just like how much probate costs — many times for the same reasons. If the decedent drafted a will one might expect that he or she also consulted an attorney on how to avoid probate in large part or altogether. If the decedent passed without drafting a will, by contrast, the probate process could last a great deal longer since the personal representative would be starting from scratch without any instructions for guidance.

Other factors affecting the length of probate process in Massachusetts will include the size of an estate, and its complexity. If an estate has a lot of assets it will naturally take a much longer time to probate. Similarly, because larger estates will often have a greater variety of properties, trying to execute transfers on assets ranging from real estate, to liquid accounts, to business interests will require similarly varied amounts of time and expertise. Of course, hiring an experienced Massachusetts probate attorney will provide some consistency in this respect.

How Long Should Probate Process Take in Massachusetts?

As described above, speculating on how long probate will take is a very detail specific analysis. Even knowing the precise size and complexity of an estate would only help predict the length of probate partially, because there are frequently unexpected circumstances that can delay the process. At a minimum probate may be completed as early as within 9 months for a very simple Massachusetts estate, but in order to manage expectations we tell clients that they should expect distributions at least 18 months down the road. This is not an unusual amount of time.

Under the new Uniform Probate Code, however, Massachusetts probate process may very well see a speedier future. Two separate tracks will soon be in place that are designed to cut back on the work of the courts and consequently expenses to estates. In this new system, an estate that is processed informally can avoid many of the technical hurdles, while the formal track is still available for more complex estates.

In addition, voluntary administration for estates that total less than $25,000 in assets is still available for those that qualify. Procedures such as these may significantly reduce the time and effort necessary to probate an estate in Massachusetts.

What is the Quickest Way to Probate an Estate?

The best way to ensure the quickest probate of an estate is without a doubt to have a comprehensive and up-to-date estate plan in place. Keeping the will updated, and making sure that beneficiary forms (aka transferable on death or payable on death forms) for all non-probate assets (e.g. life insurance policies, IRAs etc.) is the best guarantee that all assets are accounted for. Moreover those assets with beneficiary designations will be transferred outside the probate process. This is why a little help from an Massachusetts estate planning lawyer can go a long way.

Absent an updated will, the best way to ensure the timely disposition of assets will actually become hiring an experienced attorney. Knowing the laws of intestacy, the ins and outs of probate process and how best to deal with non-liquid assets when multiple beneficiaries inherit a share are just a few of the ways an attorney can help. An experienced Massachusetts probate attorney will also know which of the available streamlined procedures under the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code are most appropriate for administrating the estate. At any stage of the estate planning and probate processes, early action is always the most advantageous.