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How are informal and formal probate different?

Not all probated estates here in Massachusetts go through the same form of probate. This is because there are two different probate types in the state: informal probate and formal probate.

Which type of probate an estate will go through depends on the specific circumstances of the estate and the individuals connected to it. In situations that are very straightforward and have no special issues present, the estate may be eligible to go through informal probate. In situations in which there are complex issues, special issues or issues that are likely to require judge review present in relation to the estate, the estate will likely have to go through formal probate.  

Thus, one of the differences between these two types of probate are the circumstances in which they are used. There are many other differences between these two probate types, as they each have their own procedures and rules attached to them. We will now go over a few of the other ways these two probate forms differ.

One way regards what sort of official presides over the proceedings. Informal probate proceedings are presided over by a MUPC magistrate, while formal probate proceedings are generally presided over by a judge.

Another way regards whether hearings are involved. Generally, informal probate proceedings do not involve hearings. Formal probate proceedings, on the other hand, often involve hearings. 

Another way regards simplicity level. Informal probate tends to be simpler and more streamlined, while formal probate tends to be more involved. 

Thus, what the probate process will be like for a given estate will generally be heavily influenced by whether the estate goes through informal probate or formal probate. Individuals who have questions regarding what probate type a deceased loved one's estate will likely go through or what processes the probate proceedings for the estate will involve may find it helpful to talk things over with an estate planning attorney.

Source: Massachusetts Court System, "What options are available to probate an estate?," Accessed March 11, 2015

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