Probate administration in Massachusetts is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries, and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. The Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code governs the probate and administration of Massachusetts estates, as well as the probate of in-state real property that is part of an out-of-state estate. At Family Legal Partners, P.C., we have extensive experience and knowledge in probate administration and can guide you through the process – but most importantly protect you and help you navigate the traps for the unwary. 

The probate process can sound very overwhelming and complicated, but here is an understandable breakdown of how it works. 

The Probate Process and The Steps Involved

Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering a deceased person’s assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property as the will directs (or as the state law dictates if there’s no will). This process ensures that everything is done according to the law and that everyone’s rights are respected.

Probate in Massachusetts is generally necessary when a person dies owning property solely in their name (like a home or a car) or has rights to any asset that does not automatically transfer to another person at death (like a bank account without a designated beneficiary). Even if an estate contains probate assets, you might only need to go through a partial formal probate.  If the value of the decedent’s estate is less than $25,000 and does not contain any real property, then a limited version of probate called Voluntary Administration may qualify.  When counting the total assets, the assets not included in the probate listed below are part of the total value.  A voluntary administration is a much quicker, more straightforward process and may not require the services of an attorney.

The Key Steps in the Massachusetts Probate Process

  1. Filing the Petition: To start probate, you must file a petition at the Probate and Family Court in the county where the deceased lived. This petition includes the will, if there is one, along with a death certificate and the proposed action of distributing the estate.
  2. Appointing the Personal Representative (Formerly Known As The Executor Or Administrator): Once the petition is filed, the court will appoint a Personal Representative.  If the deceased had a will, it usually names someone as the personal representative  (the person responsible for managing the estate). If there’s no will, we will work with your heirs to ensure somebody is properly appointed.
  3. Notifying Heirs and Devisees: The personal representative/administrator must officially inform the decedent’s heirs and devisees (persons named to inherit under a will). This step ensures that people who have a stake in the estate are informed of the probate proceedings. This notice provides interested parties with the opportunity to contest the will if they believe it is invalid due to undue influence, lack of capacity, or improper execution. Such contests can significantly prolong the probate process.
  4. Taking Inventory of the Estate: As part of their duties and responsibilities, the personal representative needs to identify and take inventory of the deceased’s assets, including real estate, investment and bank accounts, and personal belongings. This may also involve securing for appraisals.
  5. Paying Debts and Taxes: Before any distribution to the heirs or devisees, the Estate must assess and reconcile valid debts and liabilities of the estate, which might include state and federal income taxes, estate taxes, and personal debts. As such, the probate process also provides creditors with an opportunity to come forward with any claims they may have. Creditors then have a limited time to file their claims against the estate. In Massachusetts, this deadline is generally one year from death. 
  6. Distributing the Remaining Assets: Once debts and taxes have been settled, the remaining assets are distributed according to the will or, if there is no will, according to Massachusetts intestacy laws (the default rules for inheritance).
  7. Closing the Estate: Once the personal representative handles all debts, taxes, and distributions, the personal representative can file a petition for complete settlement or a closing statement. The closing process decided upon will be determined by many factors.

Assets That Pass Outside Of The Probate Process

There are, however, several ways for assets to pass outside of the probate process in Massachusetts, such as the following:

  • Joint ownership: Property owned jointly, typically with a right of survivorship, passes automatically to the surviving owner.
  • Designated beneficiaries: Financial assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies can be passed directly to designated beneficiaries outside of probate.
  • Revocable living trusts: A living trust can hold your assets while you’re alive, with instructions to pass them to your beneficiaries after your death, bypassing probate.

The Length Of Probate 

The duration of probate can vary widely but typically takes anywhere from several months to over a year, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether there are any disputes over the will or the distribution of assets.

As the nominated personal representative of an estate, you will need to navigate the probate process, which is filled with procedural entanglements and various hurdles and traps for the unwary when making distributions to those entitled to receive property or paying the taxes and debts of the decedent. Acting as the personal representative is a difficult undertaking for the inexperienced. Simply put, you want to do it with the help of an experienced probate attorney. 


Understanding probate can help individuals plan their estate better and make the process of protecting their family and assets easier. If you are planning your estate or are a personal representative dealing with the estate of a loved one who has passed away, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. At Family Legal Partners, P.C., our extensive experience and knowledge in estate planning and probate law ensures that the estate is properly settled, the process is efficient, and our client is protected. Our experience, compassionate disposition, and ties with the community will put your mind at ease during that difficult time. Contact us today.