Can I Challenge a Will or a Personal Representative Appointment in an Informal Probate?

For many people who are involved in estate disputes, such as a will contest or personal representative appointment, their first formal interaction with the dispute occurs when they receive a “Notice of Informal Probate” from the estate’s attorney.    The informal probate process is the product of revisions to Massachusetts law that went into effect in 2012; it is designed to streamline the process of administering “uncontested” estates.    Nonetheless, it is possible to initiate a will contest within an informal probate.

In order to challenge a will in an informal probate, you must file the will challenge within one year of the date of filing of the informal probate petition.  So a critical first step is to determine the starting date for this one-year period.

A challenge to the nominated personal representative of the estate, however, cannot be made through informal probate; rather, such a challenge must be made through a petition for formal probate.   In this case, there are two options:

  1. You can ask the estate’s attorney to file the petition for formal probate; or
  1. You can file a petition requesting formal probate yourself and ask the court to nominate a different personal representative.  In this same petition, if the will is in question, you can also request that a prior will be admitted to probate (as opposed to the will that was filed with the informal probate petition).

Why It’s Generally Better to Convert an Informal Probate to a Formal Probate When There Are Estate Disputes

Keeping the case in an informal probate can lead to uncomfortable results; namely,  you can end up being successful and having the proposed will voided,  but having someone you do not trust as personal representative.    For this reason I nearly always recommend going the formal probate route, where both will and personal representative issues can be resolved.


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