Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

Change is in the Air at the Probate & Family Court

March 08, 2012

A hat tip to the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court for embracing change.  Legislative reforms enacted in the last 2.5 years have completely transformed the way business affecting guardianship, conservatorship and alimony is conducted in the Probate and Family Court.  More changes in the area of estate practice will become law by March 31, 2012.

Article V of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, which became effective July 1, 2009, codifies the new laws for guardianship and conservatorship.  These changes provide a person, oftentimes a family member, with legal tools to manage the affairs of an individual who is not legally competent to manage his own affairs.  These new laws also create alternatives to guardianship taking into consideration situations where a person’s incapacity might not impact all aspects of the person’s life.

On March 1, 2012, the new alimony law went into effect (read all about alimony reform in Issue Spot).  At last week’s BBA event “Alimony Reform: Here and Now,” Chief Justice Paula Carey advised attorneys to read the bill and then read it again and again.

And after much anticipation, the remainder of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, which will change estate practice significantly, will become law by the end of this month.  This will substantially change the way business is done in Probate and Family Court.  There’s a lot to know in that area too (Issue Spot has you covered here).

So what is the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts doing to respond to these things?  Check out their website.  The Probate and Family Court has gone to great lengths to provide practical instructional materials for the public.  Not only does the website have downloadable and printable forms, but the forms can be filled out online.  This might not seem like a big deal but it is and for a couple of reasons:

  1. There is a large and growing population of pro se litigants who appear in court and these are cases that involve family, housing, employment, and financial issues – all of which are of great personal importance.  Cases involving pro se litigants often require more time from judges and court staff to explain the procedures and court rules to pro se litigants.   The self-help resources that are available online are excellent and useful tools.
  2. Having these forms available to the public also saves the Court money.  They no longer have to print the forms and distribute them to the fourteen Probate and Family Court divisions across the state.  The Probate and Family Court is really leading the way in protecting the rights of individuals whose abilities may be compromised due to mental illness or deficiencies.

The new changes to the law in these areas mean a great deal to the courts, but will mean even more to the people who use our courts every day.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association