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Is probate of an estate always necessary?

Survivors and heirs are often gratified to learn that they don't have to submit to a lengthy probate process in order to take possession of the few assets that are in very small estates of their loved ones. For instance, a voluntary administration can be initiated even when the decedent died intestate, as long as the following conditions are met:

-- At least 30 days have passed since the decedent died.

-- He or she was a Massachusetts resident.

-- There are no additional pending probate proceedings.

-- Excluding any vehicles owned by the decedent, the value of the entire estate must not exceed $25,000.

-- No real estate is involved.

In a voluntary administration, the personal representative's authority is limited, and he or she is not officially appointed by the court.

There is also an administrative proceeding known as informal probate that's processed by a Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code Magistrate and not a judge. Under these circumstances, hearings are disallowed by the courts.

This expedited process is only possible when all legal requirements have been met. It is possible for an informal order to be issued by a magistrate one week after a decedent's death.

An estate doesn't qualify for informal probate if:

-- The official death certificate hasn't been issued yet.

-- The will can't be located.

-- The identities or whereabouts of any devisees or heirs are unknown.

-- A spouse, devisee or heir is incapacitated or a minor but is unconserved or represented by a guardian other than the petitioner.

-- The individual seeking appointment as the decedent's personal representative has no priority for said appointment.

-- For any reason whatsoever, a judge must sign off on a final decree or order.

-- There is a need for supervised administration.

If there is any confusion or lack of clarity regarding a family member's estate status, it is always best to err on the side of caution and consult with an estate administration attorney.

Source: Mass.gov, "What options are available to probate an estate?," accessed Jan. 06, 2017

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