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Learn about the types of probate for an estate

In Massachusetts, there are 3 types of probate and a simplified process called voluntary administration.

Table of Contents

Informal probate

Informal probate is an administrative proceeding, which means that it is processed by a Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) Magistrate instead of a judge. The court doesn’t allow hearings for this process. Informal probate can be a faster process if you meet all the requirements. A magistrate can issue an informal order as early as 7 days after the decedent’s (the person who has died) death.

Informal probate is only available if:

  • You have the original will
  • You have the official death certificate
  • You know the location and identity of all heirs and devisees (someone who receives real property)
  • The person who will be appointed personal representative has priority for appointment. Priority for appointment is a way of deciding how to rank the people who may be appointed personal representative.
  • Any spouse, heir, or devisee that is incapacitated or a minor is represented by a conservator, or a guardian who isn't the person filing for probate
  • The court hasn’t required supervised administration. Supervised administration means that the court would have to approve everything the personal representative wants to do before you do it. This is not commonly required. 
  • You don’t need a judge to sign an order or final decree for any reason.

Formal probate

Formal probate matters are typically heard by a judge and may involve 1 or more court hearings. You might need to file a formal probate for several reasons, including:

  • To object to an informal probate
  • If the will is a copy or has handwritten words added (interlineations) or crossed out (deletions)
  • The terms of the will aren't clear.
  • You need supervised administration. Supervised administration means that the court would have to approve everything the personal representative wants to do before you do it. Supervised administration extends until someone enters an order that approves distribution of the estate and discharges the personal representative or until another order ends the proceeding. Supervised administration is not commonly required.
  • The court needs to appoint a Special Personal Representative.
  • Incapacitated persons or minor heirs or devisees need to be represented.
  • The personal representative doesn't have priority for appointment. Priority for appointment is a way of deciding how to rank the people who may be appointed personal representative.
  • The petitioner is a creditor or public administrator.
  • Informal probate isn't available (see the list in the section above).
  • A judge must sign an order or final decree for any reason.

Late and limited formal probate

You may need to petition for late and limited formal probate for several reasons, including if: 

  • The decedent died on or after March 31, 2012, and
  • No original estate proceeding has happened within 3 years of the death, and
  • You only need a formal proceeding to confirm ownership of probate assets.

The court may accept a late and limited formal probate petition to: 

  • Enter the decedent’s will to formal probate and find out who the heirs and devisees are
  • Find out if the decedent died without a will and who the heirs are
  • Appoint a personal representative to administer the estate, including a person designated as a public administrator, in a supervised or unsupervised administration
  • Appoint a special personal representative until a personal representative is appointed in the formal proceeding

A late and limited appointed personal representative can't get a license to sell the decedent’s real estate. The personal representative can only confirm ownership of probate assets in the successors and pay administration expenses.

Voluntary administration

Voluntary administration is a simplified process for an estate with few assets and no real estate. It's available whether or not the decedent left a will. To be eligible for voluntary administration, the case has to meet these requirements:

  • The decedent must have been a Massachusetts resident.
  • The decedent must have left an estate that consists entirely of personal property valued at $25,000 or less (excluding the value of a car).  
  • 30 days or more have passed since the decedent’s death 
  • The petitioner must be an interested person, but doesn't need to be a resident of Massachusetts. For voluntary administration, a creditor isn't considered an interested person. If an interested person is a minor, the minor’s parents can't file on behalf of the minor without court authority to do so. If the decedent was receiving services from the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) or the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) when they died, the petitioner can be any person designated to act as a Voluntary Personal Representative (VPR) of the estate of the person by DMH, DDS or DMA.
  • Another probate proceeding can't be pending

A VPR’s authority is limited and doesn't lead to an official court appointment.

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