Inheritance laws in Massachusetts depend on whether or not you leave a will. If you do, you decide who gets your property after your death, subject to certain laws. If you do not, the state decides who gets your property. The probate court is much more involved in settling your estate if you leave no will.
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Probate assets are anything you own in your sole name. Whether or not you die with a will, these assets must pass through the probate process in Massachusetts to transfer ownership to your heirs and beneficiaries. One of the first tasks of an executor of a will, or a court-appointed administrator if you do not leave a will, is filing an inventory with the court, listing all your probate assets and their value on the date of your death. After payment of any estate taxes due, any debts you owe when you die, and costs of administering your estate, these assets are distributed to the beneficiaries in your will or to your biological heirs if you die without a will.
Some assets automatically bypass the probate process. These include anything you co-own with another individual that is set up to pass directly to that individual when you die. Life insurance policies, annuities and other retirement accounts usually have named beneficiaries. These would transfer automatically to the beneficiary without requiring probate unless the named beneficiary is your estate.
Revocation Due to Marriage or Divorce
Even if you leave a will, your estate can become complicated if you marry or divorce after you make it and do not write a new one or update the old one. If you get married, your entire will might be revoked, subject to certain provisions, unless you state in the will that you wrote it intending to marry your spouse. If you are divorced, it revokes only the provisions regarding your ex-spouse.
You can disinherit anyone in Massachusetts except your spouse. However, if you disinherit a child or any other heir, you must specifically state in your will that it is your intention to do this, especially in the case of a child. Otherwise, the court can conceivably decide that the omission of your child was an oversight and award her a share of your estate. If you attempt to disinherit your spouse, Massachusetts allows her the right to waive your will and take a percentage of your estate instate. The size of the percentage depends on whether or not you have any children and your parents are living, and is determined by the court even if you don’t live together at the time of your death.
Rights of Inheritance
When you die without a will, called dying intestate, Massachusetts gives your property to your closest living relatives based on an order of succession set out in its statutes. If you have no children and your parents are deceased, your spouse gets your entire estate. If you do have children, your spouse gets half of your property and your children share the other half. If your parents are alive but you have no children, your spouse still gets your entire estate if it is worth $200,000 or less. If it is valued at more than $200,000, he gets the first $200,000 and the balance is divided between him and your parents. The court can order the sale of certain assets to raise the $200,000.
References & Resources
- The 186th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Part II, Title II, Chapter 190
- FindLaw: When Someone Passes Away – A Guide Through the Maze of Probate in Massachusetts
- Free Advice: Probate – Massachusetts Probate Procedure
- Massachusetts Bar Association: When Good Things Happen to Bad People – The Spousal Elective Share; Maureen E. Curran
- Attorney Linda J. Argenti: Why Have a Will
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