The process of settling an estate can take months to years, and the length of time for probate can vary drastically, depending on factors such as whether a will is in place and the complexity of the estate. Sometimes the probate process takes only weeks or months, but some cases are in probate for years. Complicated matters can move slowly through the court system, especially if there are any disputes over the distribution of assets.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a legal process surviving family members go through to settle a person’s estate. If the deceased has a will, the court will review the documents to determine the validity of the will and to resolve issues anyone has with their inheritance.
The designated executor is given the authority to settle the estate and ensure the deceased’s assets get appropriately distributed. If there isn’t a will, the court will have to name an estate administrator.
How the Probate Process Works
The process you go through will depend on the state in which your loved one resided. Typically, you must go through probate court to schedule a hearing. The judge will validate the will and give the named executor authority to finalize the estate or appoint an administrator if there isn’t a will. All beneficiaries and heirs must receive a notice of this hearing.
The executor or administrator will have to take inventory of the probate property and notify all creditors involved with the estate. Probate property may include:
- Personal property such as furniture, jewelry, and other tangible items
- Stocks and bonds
- Real property such as buildings, real estate, and anything else solely in the decedent’s name
- Business interests in corporations, partnerships, or limited liability companies
- Life insurance policies naming the estate or deceased as the beneficiary
- Bank accounts in the decedent’s name, not including Transfer on Death Accounts
The court will handle any issues that arise regarding settling the estate. Once the hearing concludes, the administrator or executor can request permission to distribute the property and pay creditors and estate taxes. When they finish distributing assets to all named beneficiaries and heirs and pay off all debts, they will notify the court to close the estate.
Duration of the Probate Process
Depending on the state you live in, probate will often take between 12 to 16 months; it could be less or it could be more. However, there are instances when it can take several years to settle a person’s estate.
A range of factors can create challenges for surviving families, increasing the length of the process. They might include:
- Estate taxes – If the estate must file tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service will get involved. The government entity typically doesn’t start processing paperwork until several months after they have been filed.
- Multiple beneficiaries – If the estate names more than two or three beneficiaries, the process will likely take longer. That’s because all named beneficiaries need to be notified, and it can take some time to track them down. They also have to sign various forms and remember to return them to the executor.
- Disputes over assets – Some family members might not get along and argue over every aspect of the will. The probate judge will have to intervene to resolve these disputes.
- Unusual property – Determining the value of some types of property can take a while. The estate will have to file a tax return for unusual or rare items such as patents, collectibles, and oil rights. The IRS and executor could have significantly different opinions of the value of these items, bringing the probate process to a screeching halt.
If you’re dealing with the death of a relative and you must go through probate to settle their estate, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. The probate process will be much easier if you have a skilled legal team on your side to represent your interests. If you’d like to schedule an appointment to discuss your options, contact our probate lawyers at 941-909-4644 or 763-420-5087.
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