Massachusetts Probate Procedure
Whether or not a will existed, you will need to set up an appointment with the court, inventory all the property of the decedent, determine the heirs and successors (this is easier with a will, of course), and prepare all necessary estate and income tax returns that may be required in order to legally distribute the estate. Lists of creditors must be prepared and notice must be provided so that all the expenses of the estate can be settled (leaving any remaining assets to be distributed to the lawfully intended parties).
Before you move forward with your Massachusetts probate, you should compile an original probate file, complete with all the records the decedent intended it to include. Depending on the estate and the decedent's amount of planning, probate files might contain a letter of administration only, or much more: letters, wills, petitions, lists of heirs and accounts. If you are still in the information-gathering stage and have not compiled these records, try searching the county records for the county in which the decedent resided. Consult the courthouse with jurisdiction over the county in which the decedent lived not where he or she died for a better chance of finding original versions of the documents you may need.
Formal probate proceedings, as opposed to probate alternatives, often require the assistance of an experienced Massachusetts probate attorney. For more information, check out our article on the Basics of Massachusetts Probate.