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Legal Notes

Voluntary Probate

Pam OddyAttorney Pamela OddyMany relatives wonder if it is worth probating the estate of a relative who passed away owning no real estate and with only modest personal property. In fact, there is a short form of probate called a Voluntary that is specifically designed to simplify settling such an estate if assets in the estate are owned and titled in the deceased's name alone. It is significantly cheaper and faster than a standard probate.

The following requirements must be satisfied before a Voluntary Probate can be used:

  1. The Petition cannot be filed until 30 days from the date of death have expired.
  2. The total value of the assets excluding the car cannot exceed $25,000.00.
  3. It can be used only for personal property.
  4. It cannot be used for real estate, even if the value of the real estate is less than $25,000.00.

I find that the most common assets which are required to be probated after a person has died and which qualify for a Voluntary Probate are stock (often the result of the de­mutualization of the company, i.e. MetLife) and a car (providing the deceased did not leave a spouse).

When settling the estate of someone who has died, it is always worthwhile to ascertain whether or not the estate can qualify for a Voluntary Probate.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.