Settling Small Estates (MA)

Updated Apr 5, 2024
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In Massachusetts, small estates can simplify probate via voluntary or summary administration. Regardless of estate size, probate is not required if an estate contains only assets exempt from probate.

Voluntary Administration

Voluntary Administration is the simplest form of probate in MA.


You can use voluntary administration if:

  • The qualified estate value is <$25,000 as determined below (note that you can exclude one vehicle from this calculation)
  • The estate contains no real property (i.e., real estate)
  • At least 30 days have passed since the death
  • No other probate proceeding is underway or pending


To settle an estate via voluntary administration:

  1. Submit a Voluntary Administration Statement to the court, along with a certified copy of the death certificate and the original will
  2. Obtain a certified copy of the Statement from the court (sometimes referred to as a Small Estate Affidavit)
  3. Provide a copy of the certified Statement to any custodian of estate assets to gain custody of the assets
  4. Settle the estate in the normal manner (pay all obligations, distribute assets)

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any MA Family Entitlements.

Before distributing any assets, you should arrange to have all debts resolved in the following priority order:

  1. Necessary expenses of the funeral and last sickness of the deceased
  2. Necessary expenses of estate administration (without MA executor fees ... this is a "voluntary" administration)
  3. Federal and state taxes
  4. Other general debts

If estate solvency is uncertain, an executor should consider going through official probate for the increased creditor protection it offers. Alternately, such uncertainty can sometimes persuade creditors to forgive a portion of debts, since they will want to avoid legal expenses as well, and may prefer to get something rather than nothing.

See also Making Distributions.

See MGLA § 3-1201.

Summary Administration

Summary Administration is another simplified form of probate, a bit more involved than Voluntary Administration.


You can use summary administration if total estate value does not exceed the sum of any Family Allowances and Exemptions, estate administration expenses, reasonable funeral expenses, and reasonable and necessary medical expenses of the last illness.


To settle an estate via summary administration:

  1. Start the probate process in the normal way using a Petition for Informal Probate of Will (MPC 150)
  2. Upon appointment, immediately collect and distribute assets to the parties entitled to them in accordance with the requirements list, ignoring any other creditors
  3. File a Small Estate Closing Statement (MPC 851) with the court
  4. Send a copy of the closing statement to all distributees, and include a full accounting of estate financials (i.e., the original estate inventory and how it was disbursed)
  5. Send a copy of the closing statement to all unpaid creditors

See MGLA § 3-1203 and 1204.

Estate Valuation

In calculating a Massachusetts estate value, you should value assets as of the date of death, and ignore any debts. Do not include any assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with right of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.

No Notice of Death

Under these small estate settlement approaches, there is NOT a requirement to Notice of Death regulations for MA probate.

No Small Estate Affidavit

Many people ask about using a small estate affidavit without any court involvement, but MA does not support such an affidavit. You must use one of the above methods (or full probate) for handling small estates in MA.


In Massachusetts, the local Probate and Family Court handles wills and estate probate.

See also Official MA Guide to Estate Probate, and see also Probate in MA.

Additional Information

If your estate doesn't qualify for a small estate approach, or you're simply interested in exploring standard probate, take a look at Probate in MA.

And since probate is just the court-supervised subset of winding up a person's affairs after death, you'll probably want to check out our Complete Guide to Estate Settlement in MA.

Finally, in case you're interested, details about handling small estates in other states can be found here:

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