What is Probate?

probateLet’s first explain what the meaning of Probate.  It is the handling of a person’s estate consisting of real estate (i.e. home, real estate) or personal property (cars, boats, pets, paintings and beyond), or both.  If the person had a Will, then the personal representative of the Will must ensure that the person’s instructions are followed, any debts of the estate are paid and distributions are made to the people (named beneficiaries) who inherit from the Will.

If a person dies without a Will, then the State (in our case, probate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) determines who gets the assets of the estate which may not be the way the deceased person would have wanted their assets to be distributed.  Thus, the importance of having a Will.


  1. Identify all assets for the Estate.
  2. Determine the heirs of the person who is deceased.
  3. Handle the taxes for the estate, including personal and estate taxes.
  4. Pay the bills of the estate during the probate period.
  5. Transfer the assets to the beneficiaries.
  6. File all documents necessary to probate the estate.
  7. Obtain any appraisals necessary to value the property of the estate.

The process can be overwhelming and confusing for people, especially after losing a loved one.  Many times, there are disputes within a family about the handling of an estate and the distribution of assets.  An attorney who is familiar with the process can be extremely valuable to assist you in this difficult time.

The Law Office of James P. Dillon, Jr., has over three decades of expertise and we can help you navigate the process, make sure that the loved one’s wishes are carried out and ensure the beneficiaries obtain what was meant for them. We make the process simple, stress free and as expeditious as possible.

Please contact us today for assistance with your Probate matters.


  1. Is probate optional or required in Massachusetts?
    There are various options but generally probate in Massachusetts is necessary. The process can be informal which is the easiest way since an order may be issued within seven (7) business days post death.
  1. How long does probate take in Massachusetts?
    The entire process usually takes a year but can extend up to eighteen (18) months. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by law, allows a three (3) year maximum timeframe to probate an estate.  There are several things that can hamper the process which is why it’s imperative to work with a probate attorney to avoid these myriad of complications and delays.
  1. What determines whether probate is necessary in Massachusetts?
    a. The validity of the decedent’s Will
    b. Creditor debts owed by the decedent
    c. Real estate title (ownership) changes
    d. Personal property title changes
    e. Bank, investment or other accounts listed in the decedent’s name (without rights of survivorship)
  1. How much does it cost to probate an estate in Massachusetts?
    It varies and depends on not only the complexity of the estate but who is solicited to help complete the process (i.e. attorney, probate specialist, bank). The average cost range is dependent on the value of the estate, ranging from 2.5%-5% but not uncommon to reach up to 5%-10% of the total value of the estate.
  1. What happens to a decedent’s bank account(s) in Massachusetts?
    The account will be frozen by the bank and the personal representative, formerly referred to as an executor/executrix, will request the funds be released. The time it takes varies based on the amount of money in the account. Each financial institution determines their own threshold limits for probate.
  2. Can probate be avoided in Massachusetts?
    Yes, and it’s via a Living Trust. Working with a probate lawyer to create a Living Trust will help avoid probate for most assets, including but not limited to bank accounts, personal property such as vehicles and homes or other real estate. This is done by creating a Trust, which is similar to a Will, and designates a Trustee and varying stipulations for how the assets will be handled.