When someone passes away, their assets pass to their estate. If they had a will or hadn’t done any estate planning at all (no will or trust), it’s likely they had some assets that will need to go through probate. The probate process is a court-supervised proceeding where a will is verified and assets still titled in the name of a decedent (person who has died) are distributed according to the will. One big part of the Massachusetts probate process is that creditors can try to collect the debts incurred by the decedent.
The probate process can be overwhelming for the administrator or executor of the estate, especially if they have little experience in that position. An executor is the person named in the will who will manage the estate. If there’s no will, an administrator is appointed by a court to manage a decedent’s estate. A skilled Massachusetts probate attorney can be instrumental in making the experience as easy as possible.
Creditor Claims Deadline
If an estate needs to go through probate, there’s a duty to file a notice of the decedent’s death in a local newspaper. This notice serves to let creditors know of the person’s passing so they can make a claim against the estate. The creditor has one year from the date of death to make a filing against the estate. If probate hasn’t been started before the one-year date of death anniversary, a creditor under Massachusetts law can file a probate and preserve its claim prior to this deadline.
This one-year deadline doesn’t apply to MassHealth as a creditor against the estate of a decedent who received assistance. In In the Matter of the Estate of Kendall, 486 Mass. 522 (2020), the Supreme Judicial Court held that MassHealth has three years from a beneficiary’s death to file its claims for reimbursement on estates.
Paying Claims in Priority Order
Massachusetts law governs the order in which creditors get paid. If the administrator or executor pays some creditors out of order and the estate runs out of money, that person may be personally liable to pay the creditors that were mistakenly not paid but should have been.
Typically, secured debts (asset was used as collateral) have top priority. Unsecured debt like credit card and medical bills are the next priority. If there’s no money or property left in the estate, then the debt generally won’t be paid.
There can be a discrepancy about whether a debt is even owed to a creditor or a disagreement about the amount that’s due. It’s the job of the administrator or executor to review and scrutinize each claim to ensure all necessary information has been provided and to validate the claim.
Hiring a Massachusetts probate lawyer can save an administrator or executor a lot of headaches and time during the probate process. The attorney will also serve to protect them from claims of mishandling the estate. To learn more about how we can help you navigate the probate process, please contact us today for a free consultation.