For many people in Massachusetts, the death of a loved one may leave many unanswered questions. However, what happens during probate does not have to be part of the mystery. While much of what goes on during probate and estate administration occurs behind the scenes, it is no secret. Understanding the process often brings some peace of mind to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

If the deceased left a will, whoever has possession of the will can file it with the appropriate court and apply to open probate for the estate. If there is no will, the process of opening probate is similar. Unless the will designates someone to be the executor of the estate, the court will appoint someone to act as administrator of the estate. The executor or administrator has the authority to supervise the probate process.

During probate, the executor will locate, secure and maintain all of the assets of the decedent. This may be a challenging task, and it may require seeking appraisals for some unusual assets. If the decedent had outstanding bills or debts, the executor will pay them and close those accounts. It may be necessary for the executor to sell some of the assets to pay any debts, but the court must approve this move.

Once all creditors and taxes are paid, the court will approve the distribution of the remaining assets according to the will or the laws of Massachusetts if there is no will. At any time during the probate process, legal matters or disputes may arise, and it is wise for heirs or executors to seek professional advice before proceeding. This may help those involved to avoid critical mistakes that could be costly to the estate or to them personally.