It’s heartbreaking to comprehend losing a loved one; losing a loved one from complications of the COVID-19 virus can be even more difficult to bear. The swift and sudden onset and extreme contagiousness of the illness means patients are dying without loved ones by their side. These factors can make it especially challenging for those left behind. Adding to the hardship, Massachusetts government offices and courts are closed due to the crisis. The already slow process of probate is being halted, resulting in further delays. However, there are ways to avoid the wait.

The problems of probate:

When a loved one dies with or without a Last Will and Testament in Massachusetts, their estate goes through a process called probate. The probate process involves the Massachusetts Probate Court. It is lengthy, typically averaging over one year to complete from start to finish. The wait results in loved ones not having quick access to often much needed money to pay bills and other necessities. Probate courts being closed for days and/or months due to the COVID-19 crisis means the wait will only increase.

The other problem with probate is that it is a public process – therefore anyone (ie creditors, ex-spouses, nosey neighbors) can access court records and discover who is getting what and how much from an estate.

The ways to avoid the lengthy and public process of probate:

Set up a Revocable Trust.

When you create a Revocable Trust, you make yourself both the controller (the Trustee) of the trust and the beneficiary.  During your life, you maintain full control over the assets held by the trust and you can use those assets any way you choose.  You will also name someone to take over as Successor Trustee to manage the trust and follow your outlined instructions after your death.  This Successor Trustee will have immediate authority to manage the trust after your death and will not have to wait to be officially recognized by the Probate Court.  The Trust document will define how you want your assets divided and who you want to be the beneficiaries of your accounts and property upon your death.

Own assets jointly.

When someone owns assets (such as a bank account or real estate) with one or more persons with rights of survivorship, that is, if one owner passes before the others, then the remaining person or persons will seamlessly own the entire account or property without needing to go through probate.  Beware, however, that there can be unintended consequences.  If you have someone else named as an owner on your account(s), he or she will have full access to the funds in those accounts and can take them all without your permission.

Named beneficiaries.

Accounts such as retirement plans (401K, 403B, etc.) and life insurance policies should name one or more beneficiaries. If there is more than one, the owner of the account usually indicates a percentage of how they want the asset divided among the beneficiaries (i.e. equal percentage to all, or different percentages to each beneficiary). When a beneficiary is named, the value of the asset will go directly to the named beneficiar(ies) and Probate will be avoided.

Avoiding probate can save you money in the long run. If you have questions about how your loved ones can receive their inheritance quickly if something should happen to you, Generations Law Group is here to help. With offices located in Sudbury, MA and Acton, MA as well as virtual meeting options, we work with you to create a plan to protect today what matters tomorrow.