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When someone has a loved one who recently died and left an estate, one of the first questions the heirs ask is how long probate will take. This is a complicated question with a long and complex answer. It’s important to be aware of the factors that influence the length of the process.

The Short Answer

The short answer to the question of how long the probate process will take is anywhere between two months and two years. States have a minimal time for probate based on several factors, but the estate often takes much longer. The average also varies by state, but it can be anywhere from a little less than a year to a little more than a year.

It can often be helpful to understand the reasons behind the timeline and which steps take longer. As you learn about complications and other factors that influence the length of the process, you’ll be better prepared to handle these delays. 

Steps in the Probate Timeline

How long probate

The probate process includes several steps. Each one must be completed to continue. It may be helpful to recognize each of these steps and the timelines associated with them. 

Filing a Petition

The first step in the probate process is to file a petition to open probate. The executor will need to fill out a form and file it with the county court where the decedent lived. They will also need to provide a copy of the will and death certificate. This can take a few days or even longer if there are any delays. 

Giving Notice to All Heirs and Creditors

The executor must give notice to all the heirs and any creditors for the deceased to let them know the person has died. This process can vary by state. In some states, they only need to publish it in the local newspaper while other states require written notice to each person. The creditors then have a period of time to submit a claim against the state. This varies by state as well, but it can be from a month to two months to give creditors enough time to come forward. 

Inventory the Assets

The next step is to complete an inventory of all the assets and estimate their worth. This process can take several weeks, depending on the size of the estate. Part of the task involves determining if the heirs receive specific items in the estate or if they are to be sold and the cash dispersed. The executor will also use this time to liquidate assets, such as selling vehicles and real property. If the deceased owned a business, it may be sold at this time. This part of the process can take several months based on the size of the estate and the types of property owned. 

Administrator Will Pay the Bills

Once the deadline has been reached for the creditors to make a claim, the executor will start paying the debts. This includes filing taxes for the deceased. If they haven’t sold all the assets before, they may need to do so now to pay the debts on the estate. Some states require the executor to present an accounting at this time, which will lengthen the process. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get everything paid.

Distribution

At this point, it’s time to distribute the remaining property to the heirs based on the details of the will. This step generally doesn’t take long, only a few days to make sure everything is in order. 

Other Factors to Consider

Even if probate runs smoothly, it can take several months to be completed. A larger estate can be in process for well over a year even if nothing goes wrong. However, it can become more complicated and lengthier with other factors to consider. 

Types of Probate

Multiple types of probate exist, which can influence the length of time it takes to be completed. Many states have two basic types of probate, which are generally formal and informal, though they can go by other names. Informal probate may also be called small estate probate. It’s designed for estates with a low value, which may vary by state. There are usually very few if any creditors, which means distribution can happen quickly.

Formal probate is more complicated and requires a longer timeline. However, in some states, it can be broken down into supervised and unsupervised probate. Unsupervised probate means the court doesn’t oversee all the steps in the process. The executor takes care of their tasks and provides a report at the end of probate. 

With supervised probate, the court is involved in every step of the process. The executor may be unable to make any decisions without the court’s approval. If this is the case, the process will take much longer because every action must go through the court before it can be carried out. 

Value of Estate

The value of the estate has a direct impact on how long the process will take. If the estate is below a certain dollar amount, it may go through small estate probate, which is faster and less involved. A larger estate has more assets to inventory and liquidate, which can lead to many months before probate can be completed. 

Assets Involved

The type of assets in the estate also has a direct bearing on the timeline for probate. Assets that are difficult to convert to cash will take longer to be distributed. For instance, if the deceased owned a business, the executor will be responsible for selling it to a new owner or closing the business and selling the inventory. Much paperwork is involved and it can take some time to transfer ownership. 

Estate Liquidity

The liquidity of the estate is another factor in the probate process. If most of the assets of the estate are in cash, the process will go much faster. On the other hand, assets that are difficult to liquidate will extend the process until the executor can get them sold for cash to pay the creditors and heirs. 

Litigation

Litigation occurs when someone contests the will. It can also happen if a beneficiary or heir accuses the executor of wrongdoing. If the deceased person was involved in a lawsuit before their death, the estate essentially takes the place of the person in the litigation. The estate cannot be settled until the case is finished. Legal issues can prolong probate by months or even years.

Beneficiaries and Heirs

Beneficiaries and heirs can have a major impact on how long probate will take. If someone comes in to dispute the will, it must go through the court to determine if their claim is legitimate. If a person who isn’t named in the will lays a claim as an heir, the court will have to decide if they have a right to the estate. In other cases, the heirs may dispute the way the estate is divided up. In other cases, it may be about who gets a physical asset. For example, one sibling may want to keep their parents’ home while the others want to sell it. If they are equal heirs to the property, they will need to settle this dispute before the property can be sold. If the disagreements go through the court, the process can be extended by several months or even longer. 

The Executor

The executor has a direct impact on the timeline for probate. While they are required to meet certain deadlines, in other instances they can take months to complete the task. One area where they may lengthen the time is in handling inventory or liquidating assets. 

How Long Does It Take to Become an Executor?

One of the factors in determining how long the process of probate will take is in appointing the executor. Until this person is appointed and approved by the court, the other steps in probate cannot be completed. 

If the person chosen to be executor is named in the will, they are named as executor by the court and can begin their duties. If they choose not to serve as executor or no one is named in the will, the court must appoint the person to act as executor. 

Collecting Documents

To become an executor, a person will need to fill out a form. This form is generally known as the Petition for Estate Administration or a similar title. They will need to provide information about themselves the person who died. They will also need to include the beneficiaries named in the will. 

Many states have rules about who receives highest priority to serve as executor. If the person applying has a lower priority, they will need to show that the person with higher priority doesn’t want to serve. They will need a written waiver from the other candidates. 

Much of the time, the person filing to be the executor will also file a petition to open probate. They will need to fill out the form for this and include copies of the will and death certificate of the deceased. They may also be asked to provide an estimate of the value of the estate. 

Court Delays

There may be delays in the court approving an executor. They may not be approved if they don’t meet the requirements. Some states have more rules regarding who may serve as executor. For instance, some won’t allow a person who lives out of state to act as executor. 

If more than one person wants to serve in this role, the court will need to determine who has the higher priority. Even if only one person has applied, there may be a delay in granting their executorship if they failed to obtain the waiver for someone else who has a higher priority. 

Third Party Hearings

Some people choose to hire a third party or professional to be the executor for an estate. This allows everything to be handled efficiently and in a timely manner. They will still need to be approved by the court before they can begin their duties. 

The court will conduct a hearing to approve the executor and issue letters the person will take with them to show they have authority to act on behalf of the estate. Sometimes the hearing can be a formal process while in other instances it may be informal. 

How Long After Probate is a Will Settled?

Once probate is opened, it can take months or even years for the will to be settled. The executor must follow state laws and meet specific deadlines. However, many factors can influence just how long the process will take. 

Bureaucracies

There is a lot of red tape in probate, especially in large estates. In some types of probate, the court must approve every step. This can lead to a lengthy timeframe as the executor must show proof of everything they do. 

Illiquid Assets

Assets that aren’t easy to liquidate will impact how long it will be before the will is settled. If the deceased person was part-owner in a business, it can take some time to transfer ownership and receive their part of the business’ value. Real estate and rare collectibles are also time-consuming when it comes to liquidation. It can take months or years before they are sold for their value and the money added to the estate. 

Estate Tax

Some states require an estate tax to be paid before distribution to the heirs. This tax is based on the value of the estate as determined by the executor at the time of death for the estate owner. They must pay the tax before the estate can be distributed. There is a federal estate tax along with some state taxes. Some states use the inheritance tax instead of an estate tax, which makes the heirs responsible for paying taxes on the amount they receive. Maryland is one state that requires both an estate and inheritance tax. 

How Long Does It Take to Close an Estate?

Once all the steps for probate have been completed, the final task is to close the estate. This step is another process that can take some time, depending on what is required by the court. 

Collecting Documents

The executor must provide documentation of what happened with the estate. This may include receipts of all transactions, including the sale of assets and payment to creditors. They will present these documents to the court for approval. The beneficiaries can sign their acceptance of the accounting of the estate which may allow a formal hearing to be waived. If they refuse to do so, the court will need to hold a formal hearing. The beneficiaries may present any objections at the hearing. 

Contested Accounting

If the beneficiaries or any creditors contest the accounting of the estate, the court will be required to settle the dispute. Those contesting the accounting will present their objections along with any evidence for their contest. The court will decide whether to accept the accounting. 

Will Contests

A person can contest the will at any point during the proceedings. Many contests focus on the belief that the deceased person was not capable of making the will or that they were influenced in how the will was made. Only someone who can gain or lose something because of the will has a right to contest it. While the will is being contested, the process of probate is stopped until a decision is made by the court about the contest. This issue can add several weeks or months to the entire probate process. 

Conclusion

When you look at all that is involved to have an estate probated, you can understand why it can take months or years to settle. Numerous factors come into play, making each situation unique. Don’t expect to have an estate settled quickly to receive an inheritance to which you are entitled.