The probate process typically includes:
-- Filing the person's will with the local probate court
-- Inventorying and appraising the value of the person's property
-- Paying debts, if any
-- Paying estate tax, if any
-- Establishing the validity of the will
-- Distributing property according to the will
Going through probate is costly as there are many fees to be paid; attorneys fees, court fees, appraisers fees and other costs.
What if the person who died left very few assets?
In Massachusetts if the person who has died owns only one motor vehicle and has $15,000 or less in assets, an informal process called Voluntary Administration can be used. Voluntary Administration is less expensive and faster than the formal probate process.
What if there isn't a will?
Where the deceased person did not leave a will or any other formal legal means of transferring property (such as a trust) the property is distributed according to Massachusetts statute. In legalese, the person is said to have died "intestate" (e.g., without a will) and the Massachusetts intestate statute will control the property distribution.
How long does the probate process take?
It typically takes one year. One reason for the length of the process is to permit creditors to make claims against the deceased person's estate. After one year the probate process closes, the estate is settled, and creditors are prohibited from making any further claim against the estate.
Can I avoid probate?
There are other ways to transfer your assets, such as trusts, which bypass the probate process. In some cases, depending on the value of your assets or your family situation, it may be desirable to avoid probate by taking advantage of these non-will legal instruments. The probate court filing and the details of your will are public, whereas if you desire privacy trusts are preferable because unlike wills, a trust need not be filed in court.
When is probate a good idea?
If you expect a legal challenge to your property distribution probate is an efficient way to resolve the challenge and is less time-consuming and expensive that defending a lawsuit. Likewise if you have difficulties with creditors probate can be the easiest way to reach resolution of the creditors claims, as normal lawsuits can take years.
What if someone challenges my will?
This will create a headache for your family, but it is really quite difficult to prove a will is invalid. The challenger has to prove that your will was not created as you would have intended it, that it was executed through fraud, duress, or undue influence, or that you were mentally incompetent at the time you signed it. The legal standards for proving a will to be invalid are very high. It's easy for someone to file a will challenge but not so easy for them to win.