Massachusetts changed its probate laws in 2012, when it adopted a set of laws called the Uniform Probate Code. It now offers a probate shortcut in two situations.
First, a simplified probate procedure is available if the deceased person left no no real estate and all the property in the estate is worth no more than $25,000. Any interested person can file the will (if any), an inventory of assets, and list of the heirs with the probate court, and offer to serve as voluntary personal representative (executor). The request is made in a sworn statement or affidavit.
The court issues a copy of the affidavit to the voluntary personal representative, which serves as authority for that person to claim assets of the deceased person. The personal representative must pay debts, notify the Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance of the death, and distribute the remaining property. (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 3-1201, 1202)
Second, a simple process is also available if 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, 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. (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 3-1203, 1204)
For help determining whether or not an estate qualifies for a streamlined small estate probate procedure, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).