What is the “MUPC” and how does it affect the probate process?

Effective April 2012, Massachusetts completely overhauled the probate process by adopting the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC).  Although a discussion of all the changes would be too voluminous for this space, a few of the major changes will be discussed.  First, the person in charge of a deceased person’s estate will now be called the Personal Representative, rather than the old terms of Executor (if there was a Will) and Administrator (if there was no Will).  The MUPC also provides for “payable on death” (POD) accounts, which specifically provide that a joint owner will receive the assets in a joint account upon the death of the other owner.  Prior to this change, when the owner of any joint account died, all of the assets in the account were deemed to be owned solely by the surviving owner, even when this was not the intent of the decedent.  It was common for an owner to add a joint owner (often a child) to an account solely for the convenience of allowing the other person to pay bills or make deposits more easily rather than to pass the property to the “joint” owner.  The POD accounts clarify the purpose of the joint ownership.  The most drastic change in the MUPC is the determination of the heirs that will receive a decedent’s assets if he died without a Will.  If a person dies leaving a spouse and only children he had with that spouse, the spouse will inherit the entire estate.  Previously in such a case the spouse would receive one half of the estate and the children would share the remaining half.  If the decedent or the surviving spouse had children from relationships other than their marriage, then the distribution becomes more complicated, with the estate being divided among the spouse and the decedent’s children, or the spouse and the decedent’s parents and siblings, depending on whether it is the decedent or the spouse who has the children that are not from the marriage.  It is important to note that these changes do not affect people who have executed a Will.