Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering a deceased person's assets and distributing them to creditors and inheritors. The Personal Representative of the Estate (formerly Executor or Administrator) is the person who has control over the estate property.
There are several kinds of probate available in Massachusetts: voluntary administration, informal probate, unsupervised formal, and supervised formal.
Informal probate is the most common type of probate. If there is no will contest and the estate is not insolvent then the informal probate process would most likely be used. Once the petition is filed with and approved by the court, the Personal Representative is issued Letters of Authority and can begin to act on behalf of the estate.
Unsupervised formal probate is used when there is a need to involve the court to make a determination or ruling such as the determination of heirs, the appointment of a conservator for a minor child inheriting property or the issuance of a license to sell real estate.
Supervised formal probate is only used in the rare occasion when the court determines that it is the best interest of the estate if it watches over the entire probate process and requires court approval of each action the parsonal representative makes.
Voluntary administration is the simplest form of probate and can only be used when the decedent's entire estate is worth less than $25,000. This is a quick and efficient way to have someone appointed to deal with a small bank account which went undetected when someone died.
There are several considerations when determining which type of probate is proper for a particular estate. Only an experienced probate attorney should be used for this often confusing and ever changing area of the law.