If you have created a Will in Massachusetts, taking the proper steps to ensure it is legally valid and fulfilling your wishes is essential. Here is some guidance on what to do with a Will in Massachusetts:
Get it Notarized and witnessed Properly.
It is worth mentioning that the Notarization of a Will is not required. However, if the situation ever arises in which a Will becomes contested, notarization assists in proving the legitimacy of the Will.
It is highly recommended to get your Will notarized.
You will also need to have two witnesses sign your Will after they observe you mark it. This Rule is statutory. I have seen it come up where someone challenges a will because they thought the person who signed it was unidentifiable, a minor, and suffered from incapacity or memory issues. Having your witnesses at the bank, law office, or other professional environment is best to ensure they are eligible.
File it with the Probate Court.
After a person passes away, your Will needs to be filed with the probate court in the county where you lived. This “lodges” the Will with the Court and opens probate, the legal process for administering the estate. A Personal Representative will be appointed and be responsible for bringing the original signed Will to Court. The Court will keep the original and provide certified copies to the Personal Representative. Once the Court authorizes a Personal Representative, that person is free to do what is needed for the estate and will have limited powers depending on the type of probate form a person fills out, whether formal or informal, supervised or unsupervised.
The idea here is to make sure before your passing, your family is not just familiar with your Will, but they know something about the process. Ideally, you will have suggested your attorney probate the case for them as they are already familiar with the process and your estate. If nothing else, they need to know they will have to take the Will to Court so someone can be authorized to carry out their intent. Often, people are unaware of this and start doing maneuvers before they are entitled to. Accountability for these actions varies but can be severe.
Notify your Representative and Beneficiaries.
Once your Will is signed, witnessed, and notarized, ensure the person you have designated as your Personal Representative knows they have been named in it. Please provide them with a copy of the Will so they know your wishes. It is also an excellent idea to let close family members or other beneficiaries know they are included so there are no surprises.
I have seen it happen frequently where months or years go by, and no one makes a move on the estate because no one had a copy, knew there was a will, and did not know they were named the responsible party. Since there is a limit on how long before you can file for probate (3 years), it is best to get on right away, and an easy way to make sure that happens is to tell the person you intend to be your PR.
Store it in a Safe Place.
Keep the original signed copy of your Will in a safe yet accessible place. A fireproof safe or safety deposit box are good options. You want to ensure the Will is protected but that your Representative can access it when needed. Tell your Representative or a close family member where it is stored. Under ordinary circumstances, your attorney will likely keep a copy of your Estate plan as well. While a safety deposit box is excellent, not everyone can access that box nor knows where you bank, so ideally, a copy goes to your representative for safekeeping in advance.
Update it if Necessary.
Reviewing your Will every few years and making updates as needed is wise. Major life events like a marriage, divorce, new child, or death of a beneficiary may require changes to your Will. Please update it to reflect your current wishes. While no one wants to pay their lawyer AGAIN to do that work, often, if you go to the same lawyer, they have the Word document on file and can make a few simple edits without charging you a complete estate planning fee. At least, that is what I do.
Following these five steps will ensure your Will is appropriately managed and enacted when the time comes. Consult our experienced estate planning attorney, Robert C. Finlay, IV, Esq., in Taunton & Plymouth, Massachusetts, for any questions about your situation.