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What is the probate process?

Most Massachusetts residents have been told at one time or another that they should create an estate plan in order to avoid probate. Some residents, however, are not quite sure what the probate process entails and why it should be avoided. Two of the biggest reasons are that it can be time consuming and costly.

When an individual dies, his or her will is filed with the court. Under court supervision, any assets that a person owned at the time of death are gathered and ultimately distributed to heirs. The probate is filed in the state in which the person died. If property was owned in another state as well, an ancillary (secondary) probate is filed in that state in order to distribute it.

Any assets that are owned jointly or pass through operation of law — such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies — do not have to go through the probate process. A person’s assets can be placed in a trust, and those assets will pass to heirs and beneficiaries without having to go through probate. In addition, the individual can control how and when the assets in a trust are distributed because the trustee will administer the trust in accordance with the provisions of the trust.

The amount of time it takes to probate an estate depends on the complexity of the estate, any minimum time frames set by Massachusetts law, and whether any heirs contest the will. The longer the probate takes, the more expensive it will become. Nearly every will has to go through the probate process. However, the way in which an individual’s estate is set up can limit the process. Having an understanding of the process can help an individual to decide the best way to dispose of an estate after death.

Source:, “Avoiding Probate: Is It Worth It?”, May 23, 2015


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