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In the State of Massachusetts, how long after a person's death can you take someone to court for inheritances, without a will?

Montague, MA |

My father died March 27, 2010, and he left no will. But he had many items he had verbally expressed that he would like for me to have, and I understand I am entitled to 50% of his estate, as his child. His surviving wife, my stepmother, will not return my phone calls about it. Can I pursue this legally? He had a baby grand piano that he specifically stated he wanted me to have.

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Attorney answers 4


I'm sorry for your loss. If you step mother will not return your calls, you may need to get an attorney involved. If your father and his wife owned all of their property jointly, he would have left no estate. However, if he did leave assets of value that were his own, such as the piano that you mention, you should be entitled to half of those assets. I suggest that you have a local probate attorney contact your stepmother or her attorney to try to work this out. Good luck to you-

Please note: The above is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to establish and does not establish any attorney-client relationship.


I am sorry for your loss. It is going to be in your best interest to contact a local probate attorney to assist you with filing a claim against the estate. What you are going to be entitled to depends in large part on how the property was held. Anything owned jointly with his wife - your step-mother - will pass to her by operation of law, and will not be included in his probate estate. The process can be quite complicated, and having an attorney will simplify and expedite the process. Good luck.

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I agree with the other answers, especially as to jointly owned property. The direct answer is that you can petition for administration 30 days after death. If you believe there are probate assets (in his name only), then see a local attorney and begin the process for you to be appointed administrator. Stepmother may oppose it.

To questioners from West Virginia & New York: Although I am licensed to practice in your state, I practice on a day-to-day basis in Massachusetts. I answer questions in your state in areas of the law in which I practice, and in which I feel comfortable trying to offer you assistance based on my knowledge of specific statutes in your state and/or general principles applicable in all states. It is always best, however, to work with attorneys and court personnel in your own area to deal with specific problems and factual situations.


I am sorry to say that you may have an uphill battle on your hands. As my colleagues have mentioned, only assets that were titled in his name individually are distributed through the probate process. If there was personal tangible property that your father owned prior to his marriage, you are going to need to support that he did not transfer that property to both him and her during his lifetime. Incidently, have you had an opportunity to check the probate record to be sure that she has not filed a probate on his estate?
The bottom line answer to your question is that the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code implements a three year period by which time the probate process should have been started. Without some compelling reason as laid out in the law, you may not have much recourse now. Talk with a Probate Lawyer to determine if you have a case.

*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and have an office in Reading. My practice is focused in the areas of elder law, estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: In order to comply with requirements imposed by the Internal Revenue Service, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

Thomas J Callahan

Thomas J Callahan


Thank you Atty. Snell for bringing up the time limit under the new Code.

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