Probate law in Massachusetts is changed

lastwillA brand new law in Massachusetts will make many changes in the way people's estates are handled.

The "Uniform Probate Code," signed into law by Gov. Patrick, includes the following new rules for what happens if someone dies without a will:

• In many cases, an estate representative can begin distributing assets to heirs before getting a formal court judgment.

• If the dead person's spouse is raising young children from the marriage, the spouse will in most cases collect the entire estate. Before, that wasn't always true.

• Children of married and unmarried couples will be treated the same.

• Estate representatives will have to file an inventory of the estate assets with the court, but in most cases they won't have to make it public, which should help protect people's privacy.

Some other changes affect people who do make wills:

• Previously, if you made a will and then got married, the will was no longer valid. Now, the will remains in effect unless you write a new one.

• If you make a will and then get divorced, however, the will is automatically considered invalid. Transfers outside a will, such as pension beneficiary designations, can be automatically revoked as well.

• You can say in your will that you plan to write a separate memo stating how

certain personal property will be divided. You can change this memo informally at any time. So if you planned to give one daughter the china and another daughter the silver, for instance, and later you decide to swap the gifts, you no longer have to formally change your will to do so.

• Suppose one of your children has five kids, and the other has just one. Before, unless you specified otherwise, any bequest to the grandchildren would go 50% to the one grandchild and 10% to each of the other five. Under the new rules, unless you say otherwise, all grandchildren will get an equal share.

Some of the law goes into effect this summer, although other parts won't take effect until 2011.

The bottom line: The new law is an excellent reminder of the need for everyone to make a will and keep it up-to-date. You should review your will every few years, or whenever there is a major change in your life.