What You Need to Know About the Probate Process Timeline
Probate is the legal process of determining the heirs of an estate, paying all debts associated with the estate and dispersing the assets of the estate. While the probate process can vary by state based on the state statutes, it is relatively the same throughout the United States. It can take weeks or months, even years in some special cases for probate to be completed and the inheritance distributed to the heirs. It’s important to understand this timeline so you can know what to expect as the heir of the decedent.
How Long Does the Probate Process Take?
The formal probate process timeline depends on the size of the estate, the amount of debts and whether anyone contests the will. For small estates with few debts and no one contesting, probate can be completed in just a few weeks. In some instances, the inheritance doesn’t even need to go through probate court for the distribution.
The majority of estates will require the full probate process, which can take several months. Large estates with real estate and other estate assets will take longer. If the decedent had their own business or ran a company, the process may be more complicated. Certain steps in the probate process require a specific amount of time before you can move on to the next step. Once you understand the complete probate process, you will have a better idea of how long it will take before the estate property is disbursed.
What are the Steps in the Probate Process?
The first step is to file a petition with the county court where the deceased person lived before their death. This is when probate is officially opened. Someone will need to be named an administrator of the estate. If there was a will, someone may have been named in it. Otherwise, the court may choose who will handle the administration. This can be a time-consuming and complicated job, so a person will want to think carefully before accepting the task. Even if they are named in the will, they aren’t required to accept. Some states require a probate attorney while others allow the decedent to choose their personal representative in the will.
The second step in the probate process is to give notice to all the heirs and creditors. Some states require you to send written notice, some statutes say to publish in a local newspaper or to do both. You generally have to wait at least a certain number of weeks or months before you can distribute the assets after you give notice. If you hire a probate attorney, they will assist in this step.
During the time of waiting, the administrator will inventory the assets as the third step. One of the best tips to move the probate process along is to start on this task as quickly as possible, especially if the decedent had a large estate. They list the items that are part of the estate and have them appraised to determine the value. The personal representative may need to present this information in probate court. As creditors provide invoices and other evidence of unpaid bills, the administrator will submit payment. They may need to file tax returns on the estate and pay any federal or state tax owed as part of probate.
During this time, an heir, creditor or other interested party to the estate may contest the will. They must show proof of their claim to the estate. The probate court will review the information and determine if they do indeed have a claim and how it will be handled. These situations can cause delays in the probate process for months as documents and other records are produced to substantiate the claims.
Once the deadline for presenting a claim to the estate has passed, the administrator will need to pay all bills as the fourth step. In some states, they are required to show proof of these payments to the probate court before the rest of the assets may be distributed.
Distribution, which is the fifth step, can extend the timeline of probate as well, depending on how it is handled. Real estate may be sold along with other property and the cash distributed among the heirs. In some situations, one or more of the heirs want the real or personal property. This amount may be taken from the total value of the estate based on how much each heir was given. If the decedent owned a company or had a share in a business, this must be handled as well. The administrator may need to sell the business or liquidate the assets and close the company. If they had a partner, that person may buy out their share during the probate process.
The last of the six steps is to close the estate. This step may require the administrator to provide paperwork for the court to review. Once the court closes probate, the administrator’s job is done.
How Long After Probate is a Will Settled?
An estate or will isn’t settled until the probate process is complete. Once probate is opened, it can take as little as a few weeks or more than a year to settle the will, especially if a business was involved or the decedent had a share in a company. The length of time depends on the size and complexity of the estate. A smaller estate with only one or two heirs to share in the inheritance and few debts will settle probate in a shorter timeline than an estate with a vast number of assets, multiple creditors and heirs and one or more people who are contesting the will.
The step that takes the longest amount of time for probate is notifying the creditors and paying debts. State statutes determine how long the estate must stay open to allow creditors time to put in a claim. It can be just a couple of months or longer, but the estate cannot be settled until this timeline has passed. If the administrator disagrees with the claim made against the estate because they don’t feel it is legitimate, they will need to provide information to the court, who will then decide if the claim should be paid. This is another type of delay that can lengthen the entire probate process.
Once the time for making a claim against the estate has passed, the administrator has the job of paying all claims as part of probate. This can also be an involved process. They may need to sell some assets to pay those debts, such as real estate, vehicles, stocks and jewelry. Other assets may be sold to divide the rest of the estate for the heirs. While this step can generally happen fairly quickly, it does take some time.
The administrator will usually take inventory of everything in the estate while they are waiting for creditors to come forward. A large estate may take several weeks to be inventoried. Sometimes an appraisal is needed to determine the value of the items. An administrator can’t just sell at whatever price they choose without some knowledge of the value. They may need to get approval from probate court before they can sell anything in the estate.
While probate can take any length of time, the average timeline is between eight to twelve months from the time it was opened. Heirs cannot expect to receive their portion of the estate before this time, which is one reason a probate advance can help them with funds they will get as their part of the inheritance. If the decedent has a large estate or owned a company, one of the best tips to make the probate process go faster and more smoothly is to hire a probate attorney even if one isn’t required by state law.
What Happens After Probate is Closed?
Once all the work has been done for the estate, the creditors have been paid, the forms filed and assets distributed among the heirs, the last step in probate is to close the estate. This involves filing a closing statement with the court. In some states, a complete listing of what has been dispersed must be provided and receive court approval before the court will close probate.
Once closing has happened, everything is final. No changes can be made and the work of the administrator is finished. They have no more obligations to the estate of the decedent. This can take a year or longer, depending on how smoothly the probate process moves.
While this article provides general information about the probate process, it’s important to note that each state has its own specific rules regarding probate. An attorney can answer legal questions and provide counsel to ensure everything is handled properly. This not only protects the assets of the estate but ensure probate goes smoothly and the heirs receive their inheritance in a timely manner. Even with an attorney, the process of probate can be quite lengthy and complicated. A probate cash advance can provide much-needed funds until probate is closed.