How Long Does Probate Take?

If you are the executor of a will, an heir to an estate, or an administrator, it’s very likely that you want to know how long probate takes. Maybe you were just asked to be listed as the executor, but you want to make sure that you have enough time to allocate to the process before you agree. In any case, understanding what probate is and how it works will help you understand the average timeline.

What Is Probate?

First, probate is an area of law that has to do with estates, last wills and testaments, and anything else that settles the assets of someone who is deceased. All probate documents and cases go through a special probate court.

If there is a last will and testament written by the deceased, then the probate court has a process to make sure that the will and testament is valid, that the deceased actually wrote it, and that they were of sound mind when they did so. The executor is named as the person in charge of all this. The executor has to:

  1. close bank accounts,
  2. pay off any remaining taxes,
  3. change the name on the title for any vehicles to the appropriate heirs,
  4. clean out the house and distribute any assets,
  5. etc.

Once a will has been validated, inheritors or heirs settle any issues they have with their inheritance in probate court.

If someone passes away without a will and testament, then the court has to appoint a person to settle all of the assets.

How Does Probate Work?

The details in the probate process will vary slightly depending on your state, but they generally follow some of the same steps:

Step 1:

In order to probate a will, the will has to be presented to the probate court. 

Step 2: 

Once the will is presented, the probate court schedules a hearing to appoint an administrator or executive for the estate.

Step 3: 

All of the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased have to be notified that the probate process has begun.

Step 4: 

The executor or administrator of the estate has to give notice to all creditors that the deceased has passed away. They also must conduct an inventory of all assets. Legally, the assets of the deceased are now referred to as probate property. Probate property can include:

  • Jewelry
  • Clothing
  • Cars
  • Houses
  • Stocks
  • Business interests
  • Bonds
  • Other fixed items or buildings
  • Movable objects like furniture
  • Art

Step 5:

If anyone has an objection, the executor is in charge of handling that objection. After the probate hearing is complete, creditors are paid, and any estate taxes are paid from what remains in the probate property. After this, the estate property can be distributed to the heirs in accordance with the will.

Step 6:

Once all of the property has been distributed and any debt has been paid, the court has to be notified that the estate can be legally closed.

Average Time for Probate Process

The average time for probate is anywhere from a few months to a little over one year, but there are a lot of factors that can influence how long this process takes.

How Long Does the Probate Process Take?

In most cases, probate will take less than one year. A major reason for this time frame is that it simply takes time to communicate in writing with everyone involved. For example: 

If there are taxes that have to be paid, the executor of the will is responsible for finding out what taxes remain, sending in a check after either taking money from the deceased’s bank account or liquidating certain assets in order to get the money. Then the IRS has to send confirmation that the check has been received. Communicating with the IRS is done through traditional post for matters like this, and it can take several months just to get confirmation that all of the estate taxes have been paid.

Other issues can take longer because they are not as clear cut as something like a bank account. If someone passes away with only traditional checking and savings accounts, those can easily be closed and the money transferred and subsequently distributed to the beneficiaries. By comparison, if someone passes away with complicated business interests like a percentage ownership in a company or stocks, those might have to be sold or liquidated, and any associated taxes paid, before they can be distributed.

Most commonly, however, the process takes longer if someone challenges the validity of the will or some of the distributions in the will. This can take place if, for example, a beloved father received a new at-home care nurse for the last year of his life. Then, upon his passing, a new will was presented that gave all of his assets to the home care nurse. The family in this case might contest the validity of that will, claiming that he was not of sound mind or that he wrote it without realizing what he was writing or that he was coerced by the nurse. 

Similarly, there might not be an issue with the will at all but, rather, with the executor. Family members might contest the appointment of the executor, especially if the executor is a newly married member of the family when it should have been the oldest adult child of the deceased or if a new spouse is not appointed the executor but the deceased’s adult child is.

Also read:Successor Trustee: Definition and Duties

In the American legal system, a successor trustee is an individual that takes over the responsibility of managing another person’s tru...

Why Does Probate Take So Long? 

To probate a will can take a month or a few months or even a couple of years depending on the situation. The reasons your case might take longer to process could be:

  • Someone in your family decided to do their own will, but they forgot key items in the will like assigning an executor of the estate, which means that the court has to do it. 
  • An executor was assigned, but that person cannot be found. Your state law dictates that the property has to go to a new executor, but the family cannot decide who. 
  • The trust has some legal tax complications, and the executor needs time to settle them before distributing the inheritances. 

Conclusions

Overall, there are many factors that can influence probate and how long it takes. Because of this, it is especially important to ensure that you work with a proper probate attorney beforehand to settle all affairs and ensure that the will and testament cover all assets properly. Having an executor and a backup secondary executor can help circumvent issues that commonly delay the probate process.

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska is Content Lead at Lawrina, a legal portal that projects innovation in law. Mariia manages the content on the website, takes interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looks for the interesting topics for Lawrina's audience. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Mariia for all the details via email m.synytska@lawrina.com.

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