For those who have lost a loved one or family member, the Massachusetts probate process can seem like a foreign and complicated process.  Adoption of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code takes effect January 2, 2012, and is designed to simplify the probate process.  The new process will, in many cases, require less court supervision, be faster and cost less than the current probate process.

In the past, probate forms and terminology had been divided into two groups depending on whether the decedent had died testate (with a Will) or intestate (without a Will).  The MUPC has merged the two distinctions and included both on most of the forms, thus eliminating confusion over which forms to use. Terminology has also been streamlined.  There will no longer be a distinction between an Executor and an Administrator.  The term used to describe the person assigned by the court to settle the estate’s affairs will be the all inclusive Personal Representative.

There will be more options as to the level of involvement on the part of the probate court.  The implementation of unsupervised probate will give the personal representative powers to handle most of the duties of the administration of the estate without order of the court.  Supervised administration will also be in option under the MUPC and may be preferable when the estate will benefit from the additional oversight of the court.

One of the most anticipated changes is the introduction of informal probate proceedings.  Informal probate is designed for the probate of relatively simple, uncontested estates.  The process will be faster and require- less reporting to the court than traditional probate.  Notice to interested persons is mailed seven days prior to the filing of the Petition.  All necessary forms are presented to the court as a packet.  If everything is in order, the court will issue Letters Testamentary/Administration.  It will be up to the personal representative to give notice by publication after the Letters have been issued.  The court will not follow up on the publication requirement with an informal probate.  Inventories and accounts will be provided by the personal representative to the interested parties but will not be required to be filed with the court.  Less court involvement and fewer required court filings means fewer court and attorney fees for the simple estate!

Any estate administration that does not qualify for informal probate will be filed formally.  Formal probate proceedings will continue to have many of the same requirements as the existing probate process.  Notice and publication will have to be made and proof of service and proper publication will be required before the court issues Letters in formal probate proceedings.  Increased court involvement and oversight will, unfortunately, lead to increased costs for the estate. However, formal probate may not always be unwanted.  One may desire to file formally if they have received notice of the intent of another interested person to file informally.  During the seven days of pre-notice for informal proceedings, an interested party may initiate formal proceedings thus making the informal process unavailable from the beginning.  Even after informal proceedings have started, interested parties will always have the option to petition the court to convert to formal probate proceedings.  This may be helpful if it becomes evident that additional supervision by the court would be beneficial to the estate.

The MUPC will introduce additional changes such as the new role of magistrates, new statutory powers of personal representatives and enhanced requirements for and participation of Guardians Ad Litem for incapacitated and/or protected interested persons.  Over the next few months, and certainly once the MPUC is put into effect, these changes will become more evident.  Hopefully for those estates that do have to endure the probate process, the objective of the various professionals within the legal profession and process who have worked so hard to make these changes a reality will be realized and the probate process will be shorter from beginning to end and less cost prohibitive for all involved.

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