Learn about the types of probate for an estate

Learn about the 4 options for probating an estate. In Massachusetts, there are 3 types of probate and a simplified procedure called voluntary administration.

Table of Contents

Informal probate

Informal probate is an administrative proceeding and is processed by a Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) Magistrate instead of a judge. Hearings aren't required or allowed by the court. Informal probate can be a faster process if all the requirements are met. A magistrate can issue an informal order as early as 7 days after the decedent’s (the person who has died) death.

Informal probate isn't available if:

  • The original will can't be found
  • There is no official death certificate
  • The location or identity of any heir or devisee (someone who receives real property) is unknown
  • The person who will be appointed personal representative doesn't have priority for appointment. Priority for appointment is a way of determining the ranking of people who may be appointed personal representative.
  • There is a spouse, heir, or devisee that is incapacitated or a minor and not represented by a conservator, or a guardian who isn't the petitioner (the person filing for probate)
  • Supervised administration is necessary. Supervised administration is a proceeding to secure complete administration of a decedent’s estate under the court's authority, which extends until an order is entered approving distribution of the estate and discharging the personal representative or other order ending the proceeding.
  • A judge must 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 hearings before the court. Formal probate may be required 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
  • Supervised administration is necessary. Supervised administration is a proceeding to secure complete administration of a decedent’s estate under the court's authority, which extends until an order is entered approving distribution of the estate and discharging the personal representative or other order ending the proceeding.
  • A Special Personal Representative needs to be appointed by the court
  • Incapacitated persons or minor heirs or devisees need representation
  • The personal representative doesn't have priority for appointment. Priority for appointment is a way of determining the ranking of people who may be appointed personal representative.
  • A creditor or public administrator is the petitioner.
  • 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 proceeding related to the estate has happened within 3 years of the death, and
  • A formal testacy or appointment proceeding is needed only to confirm title in the successors to estate assets.

The court may accept a petition to: 

  • Admit the decedent’s will to formal probate and determine both the heirs and devisees 
  • Determine that the decedent died without a will and determine the heirs
  • 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 pending the appointment of the personal representative in the formal proceeding 

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

Voluntary administration

Voluntary administration is a simplified procedure for an estate with minimal assets and no real estate. It's available whether or not the decedent left a will. To be eligible for voluntary administration:

  • The decedent must have been a resident of Massachusetts
  • The decedent must have left an estate consisting 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 authority from the court to do so. In the case of a person who, at their death, was receiving services from the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) or the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA), the petitioner may be any person designated to act as a VPR of the estate of the person by DMH, DDS or DMA.
  • Another probate proceeding can't be pending

The authority of the voluntary personal representative is limited and doesn't lead to an official appointment by the court.

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