Grieving individuals cope differently, and participating in the probate process may be the last thing on their minds. While it seems unsettling to bereaved family members and loved ones, going through it helps ensure that a deceased person’s assets and affairs are sorted out as soon as possible.
Settling a probate can take time, depending on internal and external factors. For heads of the family, leaving a Will can ease the complexities, although not always a guarantee of seamless proceedings.
Here’s what you can expect when going through a probate procedure:
Intestate vs. Probate
In cases of a dying testate, the judge will ensure the Will is valid and executed according to their wishes. In some circumstances, they’ll appoint an Executor of Estate, who pays the creditors, inventories the assets, and processes estate transfers. They’ll coordinate with the Court and other relevant agencies to ensure these properties are transferred to the beneficiaries named in the Will.
Conversely, if a decedent doesn’t have a Will, also called dying intestate, the state’s succession laws apply. This means that probate laws will determine the rightful heirs.
Probate laws vary from state to state and will dictate whether you need to apply for a Grant of Probate.
Probate Process Timeline
It can take much work to determine how long a probate will take. There are multiple factors to consider, including the documentation requirements, processing times, and individual circumstances, like family disputes and other legal issues. Generally, a straightforward process takes less than one year.
Below, you’ll find a curated list of the main processes involved and their estimated time of completion.
- Preparing and Filing a Petition (1-4 months)
The probate process starts with filing a Petition for Probate, so the Court can examine the Will and appoint an Executor as necessary. Once filed, you’ll receive a schedule for your first hearing, which can take several days to weeks, depending on the Court’s availability.
It helps to gather relevant documents in advance, like a death certificate, a copy of the Will, affidavits, and the deceased’s statement of assets and liabilities. The Court may also ask you to submit other supporting documents and pay certain fees for filing the petition.
- Issuance of Probate Notice (1-2 months)
The Court-appointed Executor or Administrator will send notices to all interested parties, including heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors. All parties must sign the Waiver of Process and Consent to Probate. Doing so means a smoother probate process, as there are no questions regarding its validity. If you’re the appointed Executor, and such is the case, you’ll be awarded independent estate administration.
Some states will require the Executor to publish a newspaper notice for wider reach. Depending on local laws, you’ll only be given a few months after the Court accepts your petition to complete this task.
If you can reach all relevant parties, the process will take only a few days. However, an interested party may contest the Will, delaying the probate to a few months.
- Inventory and Appraisal of the Estate (6-12 months)
The deceased’s assets will be recorded, appraised, and officially recorded on the estate. Depending on the assets involved and the situation’s complexity, this can take several months to a year.
This activity involves combing through the testator’s individual-owned properties, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, insurance, and valuable items, whether tangible or intangible, like intellectual property rights. You should hire professional appraisers and a probate lawyer for this task, which impacts the length of the process, especially if large assets and multiple properties are involved.
- Payment of Estate Debts (6-12 months)
An Executor or Estate Administrator is in charge of paying the decedent’s debts and taxes. The probate process has accompanying fees, and the longer the probate, the higher they become. Payments must be made before distributing the remaining assets and closing the estate.
Sometimes, you may need to sell properties in probate, which goes through a slightly different procedure, contract, and disclosures than a traditional property sale.
The steps involved in a probate sale will also vary depending on whether you’re awarded independent or dependent administration rights over the estate in question. Being granted the latter means you need the Court’s approval before selling estate properties, paying off debts, and transferring assets.
Once this is done, your probate lawyer will file a petition to distribute the remaining assets and close the estate.
- Distribution of Remaining Assets (1-1.5 years)
In most jurisdictions, the Court will suggest that asset distribution be done after the final probate hearing. Doing so gives them time to review the final accounting, which details the transactions done. Suppose the Court determines that no liabilities are left. In that case, you can proceed by paying the accumulated probate expenses, primarily Court and lawyer’s fees.
Following settling debts, taxes, and other payments, the remaining assets will then be distributed according to the deceased’s wishes or as stated in the Will. Otherwise, it’ll be allocated per the state’s probate laws. The Court will generally consider hierarchy in such cases, which puts the spouse as the priority. For widowed and unmarried decedents, the next of kin will be their surviving children.
- Closing the Estate (9 months-2 years)
Your final probate hearing schedule will depend on the Court’s availability, just as your first hearing. At this stage, it seeks to determine whether all liabilities have been dealt with.
Once this has been established, the judge will issue the Final Order for Discharge of Personal Representative. This means that your duty as an Executor or Administrator of Estate is concluded as the estate is dissolved.
The probate process encompasses Court-supervised procedures that ensure a deceased person’s assets are distributed properly and their affairs settled. Probate procedures apply in cases where the deceased left a Will or passed away without one.
The length of probate will depend on several factors, as discussed. However, it’s in your best interest to prepare a Will as early as possible or before and after retirement, ensuring you can truly rest in peace in the afterlife.