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Understanding the Massachusetts probate process

When planning your estate, you should understand the factors that govern probate in Massachusetts. Probate is the court-approved process of settling your final expenses, taxes and debts along with distributing property to your heirs. 

Review these probate considerations as you develop or revise your will and other estate planning documents. 

Informal probate

Some estates qualify for informal probate in Massachusetts. With this process, your executor simply files a form to start the estate administration process and can receive permission within seven days. Your estate may qualify if your representative has your original will and death certificate, knows the location of all your heirs, and does not anticipate challenges to the estate.  

Formal probate

Unlike informal probate, formal probate requires at least one court hearing to settle your estate. Massachusetts requires formal probate if: 

  • You have listed heirs in your will who are underage or incapacitated. 
  • Your will has unclear terms or contains crossed-out or handwritten sections.  
  • A public administrator or creditor petitions the court for formal probate with a claim to your estate. 

In rare cases, the judge may order supervised administration in addition to formal probate. For example, an heir can petition the court for supervision if he or she has concerns about the executor. 

Both probate processes apply only when your estate has a value higher than $25,000. If you wish to avoid probate for the sake of your inheritors, you can take advantage of estate planning strategies such as transferring assets in excess of $25,000 to the ownership of a trust. 

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