Probate Shortcuts in Massachusetts

The simplified probate process in Massachusetts saves money for small estates.

Massachusetts offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." This makes it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using the following probate shortcut -- saving time, money, and hassle.

Simplified Probate Procedures

Massachusetts has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the executor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.

Massachusetts offers a probate shortcut for two situations:

  1. The deceased person left no real estate and all the property in the estate is worth no more than $25,000 (excluding the value of one vehicle). Any interested person can file the will (if any) and offer to serve as the executor.
  1. The value of entire estate, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed the combined value of exempt property (that's property that a creditor couldn't take even if there were a debt the estate couldn't pay), the family allowance, costs of probate administration, reasonable funeral expenses, and reasonable expenses of the last illness. The court appoints a personal representative, who may immediately disburse the estate assets and file a closing statement with the court.

For the first option, the executor must include the following in a sworn statement or affidavit:

  • his or her name and address
  • the name, address, and date of birth of the deceased person
  • the relationship between the executor and the deceased person
  • the names and addresses of anyone who owned property with the deceased person
  • the names and addresses of any heirs and beneficiaries
  • an inventory of assets and their value, and
  • a statement that the executor will administer the estate and follow all applicable laws.

The executor attaches a copy of the will and death certificate to the statement and pays a fee to the court clerk. The court issues a copy of the affidavit to the executor, and this serves as proof of authority for that person to claim assets of the deceased person. The executor must pay debts, starting with necessary expenses of the funeral, last illness and administration of the estate. The executor must also notify the Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance of the death and distribute any remaining property to the heirs or beneficiaries. There is a 30-day waiting period to use this process. (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 3-1201, 1202).

For the required closing statement for the second option, the personal representative must provide a sworn statement that says:

  • the value of the estate is less than that described above
  • the personal representative paid debts, distributed the remaining property to the beneficiaries or heirs, and provided the beneficiaries and heirs with a full accounting of the estate
  • the personal representative sent a copy of the closing statement to all heirs, beneficiaries, and known creditors.

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 3-1203, 1204).

For More Information

For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor’s Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo) or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).

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