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Do Massachusetts Residents Have to Probate Estates?

Probate can be an expensive endeavor. In Massachusetts, probate litigation is handled by the Family and Probate court system, and fees for filings alone in probate matters range from $60 to $400 per filing, though there is not a fee for the initial appointment of or letters of appointment for a fiduciary. Because of the expense and hassle of probate, families may want to take non-probate action on an estate when possible.

Not every estate has to go through probate. According to the Massachusetts Court System, probate requirements depend on the titling of the individual’s estate at the time of death. If property is held in a trust, probate may be avoided, for example. Some property may be exempt from probate, such as life insurance with a clear beneficiary listed or jointly held property that falls under a clear right of survivorship.

According to the courts, probate is generally required in some cases, including those where an heir is required to file or pay taxes on the part of the estate or decedent. Other reasons for probate include a need for the decedent’s medical records or a need to pay creditors on behalf of the decedent. Changing ownership — or title — on property or accounts without a right of survivorship also requires probate.

Finally, probate is necessitated if the validity of a will — or any estate document — is called into question. When heirs don’t agree with each other regarding an estate, the matter is often settled through probate litigation.

Though estate administration and probate matters are simplified and made easier by solid estate planning, there is always the potential for complex issues to arise. Seeking expert assistance with estate planning matters early can reduce those chances, and seeking assistance once probate begins may help heirs see the outcome they desire.

Source: Massachusetts Court System, “Is it always necessary to probate an estate?” Aug. 15, 2014

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