I am always overwhelmed by a sense of anticipation when I retrieve a probate file. Probate records hold a cache of information that can provide insight into familial relationships and the socio-economic status of an ancestor. Probate files can also provide information that is helpful in locating long lost kin. Items coveted by genealogists, such as the will of the deceased, names of next of kin, an inventory of the estate, a financial accounting, sale bills and more can be found in probate records.
However, with the advent of the new Uniform Probate Code, which became effective on March 31st 2012, probate files in Massachusetts may not divulge the scope of information genealogists have been accustomed to finding. The most far reaching change is that an estate can now be probated without supervision of the court. Additionally, former requirements, such as inventory of the estate and filing a final accounting are no longer necessary. Under the new law, a sworn statement to the court by a personal representative stating that all expenses of the estate have been paid and all disbursements made, is all that is required to close an estate.
While formal probation of estates will continue to be filed for large estates, informal probation will be the likely choice for smaller estates, by reason of cost effectiveness and expediency.
My personal experience:
The recent death of a family member in July alerted me to the “new” probate law. The package I received from a local attorney, contained the will, a death certificate, a petition for “Informal Probate of Will/ Appointment of Personal Representative” and “Notice of Informal Probate.”
The petition for “Informal Probate of Will/Appointment of Personal Representative,” contained basic information about the decedent and the name and contact information of the individual petitioning for appointment as personal representative. A page entitled “Return of Service” listed the names and addresses of descendants.
The will of my relative, which was signed just a few days before her death was not entirely specific regarding some bequeaths. A child of the decedent, who was left a long promised doll collection, was upset that items were missing. Despite the fact, that she wrote a letter regarding the missing items to the personal representative and his family, nothing was done to sort out the problem. Short of petitioning the court, she had no recourse in this matter. Consequently, she did nothing.
There were more issues when checks to family members were disbursed and I did not receive my bequeath. I emailed the personal representative, who claimed he did not know where I resided, even though my full address was listed on the “Return of Service.” A few months prior to the disbursement his wife appeared on my doorstep of my new address, unannounced. Obviously, the personal representative was aware of my address.
Since I have never received an inheritance, I have no idea if these kinds of issues are prevalent, but I suspect that the fact that there was no court supervision in this case, may have given rise to the “oversights” of the personal representative.
When I finally received the check from the estate, I was surprised to find a handwritten balance sheet tucked into into the envelope without an explanation. I assumed this was a substitute for the final accounting.
Since it did not contain any documentation to verify the items that had been paid out of the estate, it proved nothing to me. Apart from that, it was certainly not a document a court would find acceptable.
I was interested to see the sworn statement filed with the court, so I called the Hampden County Probate Court to order a copy of the file. However, the clerk advised me that I would need a case number. She referred me to a website located at http://www.masscourts.org which contains a search option for the probate index for all of Massachusetts. I was able to locate the case number. However, the case has not been closed. I intend to order a copy of the file when it is available. I will be broaching this subject in this blog in the near future. Stay tuned!
Forms for informal probate can be found at:
Keep digging for those gems!
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Court System. http://www.masscourts.org : 2013.
McNamara and Yates, P.C. “Quicker Probate in Massachusetts/Theory VS Practice in the New MAUPC.” McNamara and Yates P.C. http://www.cape- law.com/2012/quicker- probate- in-massachusetts-theory-vs-practice-in-the-new- maupc/ : accessed 15 Jan 2013), 2013.