Massachusetts law about wills and estates

Laws, cases, and web sources on wills and estates in Massachusetts.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Best bets for estate administration

MUPC estate administration procedural guide, Administrative Office of the Probate and Family Court, 2016. 
This in-depth manual "contains a wealth of information and a detailed description of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code and how it is to be implemented in the Probate and Family Court."

Probate and Family Court MUPC hub
Includes links to forms, training material, rules, and more.

Massachusetts laws

Uniform probate code

Without a will

With a will

  • MGL c.190B, §§ 2-501 et seq. Wills 
    Who may make a will; that a will must be in writing, signed, and witnessed; revocation of wills; deposit of will with the court; etc.
  • MGL c.190B, Article III Probate of wills and administration
  • MGL c.191, § 15 Elective share: a spouse can choose to waive the provisions of a will and take a specified share of the estate instead
  • MGL c.191B Uniform statutory will act

Claims against an Estate

Selected cases

Ciani v. MacGrath, 481 Mass. 174 (2019)
"To the extent a surviving spouse's shares of the decedent's estate exceed $25,000, § 15 reduces his or her interest in the real property from outright ownership to a life estate."

"As a practical matter, § 15 is unwieldly and perplexing to apply in most instances. ... In addition, it is "woefully inadequate to satisfy modern notions of a decedent spouse's obligation to support the surviving spouse or modern notions of marital property," ..., and, although not visited in detail here, the history of the statute leaves no doubt that it is decidedly gendered.... In short, the statute is in desperate need of an update and we urge the Legislature to do so."

In the Matter of the Estate of Theresa A. Jablonski, 492 Mass. 687 (2023)
In a contest regarding a will that established a testamentary trust for the benefit of the testator’s dog, since the dog died before the testator, the trust is considered to have lapsed. (A testamentary trust only becomes operative upon the death of the owner who makes it.) The testator’s stated intention in the trust provisions was that all her remaining property -- her entire estate -- be given to charity after the pet’s death. However, the will itself was ambiguous as to whether this should still be the case if the dog died first. The case is therefore remanded to the lower court for further proceedings, and if no extrinsic evidence is found proving an intent to give the property to a charity if the dog died before its owner, then the entire estate becomes intestate property, customarily divided among the surviving relatives.

O’Hearn v. O’Hearn, 327 Mass. 242 (1951)
Undue influence will invalidate a will.

Forms

Wills, estates and trust forms, Mass. Probate and Family Court.

Note: There is no official Massachusetts will form. We cannot ensure the accuracy of sample wills available on the public internet. Here are a couple of ways you can get a sample will:

  • Request a sample will. Please contact a Trial Court Law Library closest to you or email masslawlib@gmail.com to request sample wills from our legal resources. When requesting, please provide the following information: if you are married and/or if you have children.
  • On site access. See "Print sources" below for legal publications in our on site library collections, many of which provide sample wills and other forms.

Massachusetts does allow you to file your will with the court while you are still living. You can fill out some paperwork and pay a small fee (currently around $75), and the court will keep your will safe until notified of your death. You can also save a copy of your will with your attorney.

Fees

Uniform schedule of fees, Mass. Trial Court.

Request for limited issues settlement conference, together with Guidelines for participation, Mass. Probate and Family Court Dept.
Free pilot program designed to settle cases where the majority of the contested issues have already been resolved.

Web sources

Estate planning 

Wills and estates administration 

  • Ajemian v. Yahoo!, 478 Mass. 169 (2017)
    The "Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701 et seq., does not prohibit... Yahoo from disclosing to the personal representatives of an estate the electronic mail (e-mail) messages in the decedent's account." 
  • Get a copy of a will, Mass. Court System.
    Find out what the process is for requesting and receiving a copy of a will
  • Massachusetts Medicaid estate recovery, MassHealth.
    "Federal and state Medicaid law requires MassHealth to recover assets from the estates of certain MassHealth members after their death. This process is called 'estate recovery.'"
  • Procedural advisory on estate administration matters, Mass. Probate and Family Court Department, October 26, 2012.
    Provides a general summary of changes to the MUPC as a result of St.2012, c.140, signed July 8, 2012. Forms are included in the court's main Wills, estates and trusts forms page.

Intestacy (dying without a will)

  • Cosgrove v. Hughes, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 739 (2011)
    "If a decedent has acknowledged paternity of a person born out of wedlock . . . that person is heir of his father." The child does not have to prove a biological connection.
  • Degrees of kinship chart, Mass. Probate and Family Court.
  • Digital assets and intestacy, BU J. Sci. & Tech. L. (2015)
    Discusses the current state of the law regarding digital assets, and argues that "legislation is needed to authorize legal ways of managing these assets and to clarify the rights of heirs to access such assets."
  • Intestate succession in Massachusetts. Nolo.com.
    What happens if you die without a will? "If you die without a will in Massachusetts, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state 'intestate succession' laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Massachusetts."

Print sources: Estate planning (drafting a will, etc.)

8 ways to avoid probate, 14th ed., by Mary Randolph, Nolo, 2022. (eBook available here with library card).

Complete guide to planning your estate in Massachusetts, Atlantic Publishing, 2011.

Drafting estate plans, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

Drafting estate plans under the new MUPC and the new MUTC, MCLE.

Drafting wills and trusts in Massachusetts, 6th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

Estate planning basics, 11th ed., by Denis Clifford, Nolo, 2022. (eBook available here with library card).

Estate planning for the aging or incapacitated client in Massachusetts5th ed., MCLE, 2021, loose-leaf.

Estate planning: with forms, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice v. 23-24), Thomson/West, 2007 with supplement. See Chapter 11, “Wills”, which includes a sample of a simple will, and much more.

Get it together : organize your records so your family won't have to, 10th ed., by Melanie Cullen, Nolo, 2022. (eBook available at link with library card).

Massachusetts estate planning, will drafting and estate administration forms: practice, 2nd ed., Lexis, 1998 with supplement, loose-leaf. Chapter 18 includes samples of simple wills.

Plan your estate, 16th ed., by Denis Clifford, Nolo, 2022. (eBook available here with library card).

Planning for the vacation home, MCLE, 2014.

A practical guide to estate planning in Massachusetts, 5th ed., MCLE, 2022.

Quick & legal will book by Denis Clifford, Nolo, 2023. (eBook available here with library card).

Saving the family cottage : creative ways to preserve your cottage, cabin, camp or vacation home for future generations, 16th ed., by Stuart J. Hollander, Nolo, 2021. (eBook available here with library card).

Print sources: Wills and estates administration

Estate administration in Massachusetts: a handbook with forms, 3rd ed., Lexis, 2013 with supplement, loose-leaf.

The executor's guide : settling a loved one's estate or trust, 9th ed., by Mary Randolph, Nolo, 2021. (eBook available here with library card).

Massachusetts probate manual, 5th ed., MCLE, 2022.

Newhall's settlement of estates and fiduciary law in Massachusetts, 5th ed., Thomson Reuters, 1994 with supplement.

Probate issues resolved under the MUPC: answers to the informal probate process, at last!, Mass. Bar Institute, 2013.

Probate law and practice: with forms, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice v. 21-22), Thomson Reuters, 2019 with supplement.

Trials and tribulations of estate administration under the MUPC, Suffolk University Law School, 2012.

Contact for Massachusetts law about wills and estates

Last updated: December 14, 2023

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