Probate 101: What people need to know

When a person dies, their will may go through the probate process, which helps to distribute property to the rightful heirs.

When friends or loved ones pass away in Massachusetts, they may leave behind a will, trust or estate plan telling others of their wishes regarding the distribution of their property and assets. When the will is located and read, the deceased wishes are carried out and the items are divided. There may be issues with the gathering the documents, appointing executors and finding beneficiaries as well. Before the property and assets end up with the intended owner, however, the will may go through the probate process.

What is probate?

Once a person dies, the will and/or trust could enter into probate. During the probate process, the executor of the will is named or appointed. This person is ultimately responsible for overseeing the distribution of the property and that the beneficiaries are given the assets and/or property that they are entitled to. If the deceased did not name an executor to the will, the court will appoint one. Depending on the situation, the case may avoid going through probate altogether.

Types of probate

In Massachusetts, there are three options when it comes to probate, including informal probate, formal probate, late and limited probate. During informal probate, the proceedings are handled by a Magistrate rather than a judge. The original will, death certificate and beneficiaries must be located in order to have the probate go through this informal process. Although documentation is required, the estate is often settled rather quickly through an administration hearing.

Formal probate, on the other hand, is handled by a judge and could require several hearings before the estate is settled. If someone should protest an informal probate or the terms of the will are unclear, the case may enter into formal probate. In cases where it has been several years since the decedent passed away, the will may go through a formal late and limited probate. This type of probate settles the estate if the deceased did not have a will or any heirs to the property.

Picking up the pieces

Having a loved one pass away can be emotional and it is often difficult to make important decisions while you are grieving. A Massachusetts attorney who has experience handling probate cases may be able to help you make these crucial choices and explore your legal options during this hard time. With a background in estate planning law, as well as state and federal laws, an attorney may help to answer any questions you may have.