Most decedents’ estates go through the probate process once they pass away. While the probate process in each jurisdiction varies, its adjudication often takes between several months to several years.
A court’s caseload can affect how long it takes to probate an estate. So too can the complexity of the case. Some factors can drag out the probate process longer than others, however. Here’s a look at a few of those:
The number of beneficiaries that an estate has can impact how long it takes to wrap up the probate process. This is especially the case when the decedent’s personal representative must first source contact information for the beneficiaries before sending them any necessary paperwork to sign and return. In-fighting between an estate’s heirs can also cause probate delays, especially if the terms of a will are challenged.
Estates with unique assets such as patents, mineral rights or rare collections may need to be assigned a value before their disbursement. There may also be a delay if there’s no liquidation of these assets. Beneficiaries may have to decide whether to take ownership of the assets themselves or wait for those assets to either mature or sell.
Property in multiple states
Personal representatives may have to open up cases in each state in which the decedent owns properties, thus slowing the probate process. It may even be necessary to work with more than one attorney — one in each state where the assets are held.
A personal representative may have to file an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 706 in addition to state-level inheritance or estate taxes on the decedent’s behalf resulting in delays during the probate process.
Personal representative issues
All personal representatives should act in the financial best interest of an estate, a responsibility known as their “fiduciary duty.” Beneficiaries may petition the presiding judge to remove the personal representative from their role if they breach their fiduciary duty, slowing the probate process.
Ensuring a seamless probate process
There are plans that testators can make to ensure that the probate process runs smoothly to include craftily inserting contingency clauses in their wills and setting up trusts. Many don’t take these proactive measures, though. An experienced estate administration attorney may be able to provide the answers to push the probate process along.