Probate Takes Time
The length of time it takes to probate an estate depends on the amount of time it takes your family to gather the necessary information, the number of months your state requires the estate to wait after posting the legal notice in the local newspaper, and whether or not anyone files a contest or a claim.
The only task that needs to be done quickly after you are gone, if you had a will, is the filing of the original within a certain period of time with the probate court in the county where you died. The time period for filing typically ranges from ten to thirty days after the date of death. Any member of your family can file the will with the local probate court. Once this is done, your family has time to shop for a lawyer.
There may be a rush to open probate if there are no funds that can be accessed to pay bills because all of the accounts were in your individual name. Then your family will need to have an executor appointed as quickly as possible in order for the executor to access your money.
No Less than Six Months
If everything goes perfectly, the probate process will take at least six months. Your family will typically spend the first week handling the burial or cremation arrangements. Then your family will make an appointment with a lawyer. The lawyer will get enough information to prepare the petition to start the probate process, if someone in the family has not already filed, and will provide your family with a list of needed information.
In some states the cost of probate is not high, but the process does take time to complete. You may decide that you prefer having an independent entity — the probate court — overseeing the transfer of your estate, even if there is some expense involved.
It usually takes the probate court judge one week to review the petition and sign an order appointing the executor. The executor might be appointed within one week if you live in a state that allows the judge to issue an order without a hearing. If a hearing is required, it might be several more weeks before the judge signs an order appointing the executor. If someone contests the appointment of the executor, further hearings will be needed to determine who will serve as the permanent executor. Most states then require at least a three-month waiting period after the legal posting is made in the local newspaper. Some states require a six-month waiting period.
The lawyer must file all state and federal tax returns, including a final income tax return. However, the information may not be available to file the final income tax return until after January 31 of the year following the death, when tax forms are mailed by employers and corporations. Last, the lawyer must prepare final inventories and accountings to close the estate.
The probate process has been around for a long time. It requires a lot of formalities, but the benefits are that probate ensures that your property is properly distributed after you are gone.
The probate system also protects unpaid creditors. These protections cause some cost and delay. You are going to learn, however, that there are steps you can take and documents you can prepare either to avoid the probate process or at least reduce the costs and delays of probate.