By Alexis Levitt, Esq.
Yes! In Massachusetts, we have three types of probates: voluntary, informal, and formal. If someone dies with probate assets of $25,000 or less, plus a car, then you only need to bring a “voluntary” probate. A voluntary is very easy—you can do this yourself, with no lawyer involvement.
You will need to complete the probate court’s “Voluntary Administration Statement.” If you are looking online, this will pop right up on Google. Also be sure to print the instructions.
The form asks for very basic information, such as decedent’s name and address, names of immediate family (“heirs”), anyone named in the will (“devisees”), and a short list of the various accounts.
The filing fee is $115. Note that you cannot file this form until 30 days from death, and you will need to include a death certificate. You will need to mail copies to MassHealth, even if the decedent never used their services.
You can mail the form, fee, and accompanying materials to the probate court. Be sure to mail with tracking so that you know when your package arrives. The clerks will take a few weeks to process everything and will mail the signed form back to you. In the alternative, you can bring your package to the courthouse, and usually the clerks will process everything on the spot, and you will leave with your signed form. That signed form should be all you need to satisfy banks and any other institutions holding the decedent’s assets.
For very small estates, it’s even easier: Banks can simply hand over funds to next of kin for accounts of $10,000 or less, if at least thirty days have passed since the death. Whether to honor this is entirely in the bank’s discretion. This is under MGL ch. 167D, sec. 12. (Tip: Print out the statute and bring it with you to the bank.)
Bottom line? Massachusetts makes it easy to handle small estates on your own.
About the Author:
Alexis Levitt practices elder law, special needs planning, estate planning, and veteran’s benefits. She sits on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and represents it on the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care. Alexis also sat on the board of the Norwell Council on Aging. Her office is in Norwell. You can reach her at (781) 740-7269 or visit her website and blog for more information at www.alexislevitt.com.