My Dad Didn't Have a Will in Massachusetts

by Beverly Bird

When a loved one dies and you discover he did not leave a will, it can throw your family into a situation of uncertainty and confusion. Massachusetts understands this and the state’s laws clearly define the procedure you must follow to settle his estate. Even without a will, your dad’s property must pass through probate, but Massachusetts makes this process much easier if he left minimal assets.

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Administrator of Estate

When your dad dies without a will, the first issue you must address is who is going to administer his estate. An administrator’s duties are the same as those of an executor, the individual your dad would have named in his will had he left one. Under Massachusetts law, only certain people have the right to act as administrator when a decedent dies intestate, that is, without a will. Your mother has first priority. If she doesn’t want the job, she can waive it. You or your siblings can accept the position instead. If none of you wants the responsibility, it passes to more distant kin. If no one steps forward to take the job within 30 days, the court will appoint one of your dad's creditors. If all his creditors decline to take the position, the court will appoint a “public administrator,” usually a local attorney.

Voluntary Administration Procedure

If you decide to act as administrator, you must next assess the extent of your dad’s estate. This determines what sort of probate procedure you’ll begin. If his total assets amount to less than $15,000, and he did not own real estate, Massachusetts allows you to open a voluntary administration. You don’t have to count your dad’s car toward the $15,000 limit or your parents' home if they owned it jointly. You can file a petition for appointment as administrator with the court, listing all your relatives and your dad’s property with associated values. You must publish notice in the newspaper that you’ve applied as administrator and send a copy of the notice to all your relatives. Your petition will include a deadline, assigned by the court, by which time anyone who doesn’t approve of your appointment must file an objection. If no one objects, the court appoints you and you can begin your duties of disbursing your dad’s estate. You don’t have to post bond, which is an insurance policy protecting your dad’s estate if you make any mistakes.

Regular Administration Procedure

If your dad’s estate doesn’t meet the requirements for Massachusetts’ voluntary administration procedure, you’ll have to open a regular administration. Your petition for appointment includes the same information, but you’ll have to file a separate inventory of your dad’s assets. You’ll also have to post bond. Requirements for publishing notice and sending copies of the notice to your relatives are the same. If no one objects to your appointment, the court will authorize you to act as administrator and you can move forward with settling your dad’s estate.

Inheritance by Heirs

Just as you would have done if your dad had died with a will, you’ll have to pay all his bills, debts and taxes first, before you can distribute the remaining estate to your relatives. You don’t have any say in who gets his property. Massachusetts law dictates this in an order called intestate succession. If your mom has also died, you and your siblings inherit the balance of your dad’s entire estate after you’ve paid his debts. If your mom is alive, she receives half the estate and you and your siblings divide the other half in equal measure. If any of your siblings predeceased your dad, their children equally inherit their parents' individual shares. Unless you probated your dad's estate through a voluntary administration, you must file a final accounting with the court, reporting all the transactions you made. You can then close the estate.