Why Does Probate Take So Long?
Probate is the process by which all of a deceased person’s debts and assets are finalized by the court. During this time, estates are legally transferred and taxes and debts are paid off.
Probate can be lengthy for a variety of reasons — the top two being:
- The speed at which the forms are filed.
- The complexity of assets in the estate. (Complex assets like businesses, royalties, patents will definitely take longer to unwind or transfer.)
It’s not always easy to tell how long probate will take, since there’s a lot that can potentially slow down the process. But when you educate yourself about in advance, you can take steps to smooth out the process preemptively.
What can slow down the probate process?
The probate process can get quite complex as it consists of several steps, the basic ones being: petitioning the court, approving the executor, notifying all parties, transferring of assets and paying of debts, and closing the estate.
Because it’s such a long process, a hold up at any point in the process can mean major delays. Here are a few examples of issues that can cause holdups:
- A slow start getting the petition to the court
- Having a lot of complex assets to manage
- Having more debt than assets
- Delays with tax returns or other tax issues
- Family disputes
- Multiple beneficiaries
- Real estate owned in more than one state
Generally the less complicated and detailed the assets are the more likely it is to move quickly. However, when a probate attorney gets involved, it can mean more delays.
Should you hire a probate attorney?
Many people will choose to hire an attorney to help them with the probate process, but this is not always necessary, and can make the process slower and more expensive.
First you’ll have to make an appointment with a lawyer which, if you’re lucky, will be in 2-3 weeks. When you do meet with them, they will give you a questionnaire to fill out. (This will likely cost you around $500.)
After you complete the questionnaire and send it back, you will then wait for the attorney to review it, and follow up in another appointment.
Finally, the initial set of documents will be prepared, but two or more months have already passed and nothing has happened. You still have a long wait ahead of you to get the entire process completed.
How long does probate take?
Each step of the probate process can take weeks or even months. For instance:
- Court petition and notify various parties: 1-3 months
- Transfer of legal ownership to estate: 1-6 months
- Pay estate expenses: 1-9 months
Finally, the process of notifying the court and closing the estate may take a few months to more than a year, but typically can be completed within a 6 month time span.
The only limit to how fast probate can be completed is the Creditor Claim period. This is the period that creditors have to make a valid claim. Afterwards, no more valid claims can be made.
If there are distributions to heirs/beneficiaries before the creditor claim period is over, the executor/administrator can be held personally responsible for the debt. For this reason, we recommend that distributions should not be made until after the creditor claim period has expired.
How to Speed Up the Probate Process
You can’t control what you inherit, but you can control how quickly all the paperwork gets completed.
In our experience, probate tends to be slower and more expensive when people choose to employ a probate attorney. Using an online probate service like EZ-Probate will dramatically speed up the process — and could easily save you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Dealing with end-of-life matters is a stressful and emotional time, and we want to help make it a little easier for you. If you have questions about how to speed up the probate process, please don’t hesitate to reach out for more information.