Colleagues discussing why probate takes so long.

3 minute read

Why does probate take so long?

It’s no secret that probate can be a long, grueling process for some. T&W offers insight into why probate takes so long and what you can do to speed it up.

Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell, @MitchMitchell

Product Counsel, Legal, Trust & Will

Probate is the process where all of a deceased person’s debts and assets are finalized by the court. During this time, assets are legally transferred and taxes and debts are paid off.  

Probate can be a lengthy process for a variety of reasons — the top three being:

  1. The speed at which the forms are filed.

  2. The decedent did not leave a valid Will.

  3. The complexity of assets in the estate. (Complex assets like businesses, royalties, patents, etc. 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 it in advance, you can take steps to smooth out the process preemptively. Keep reading for helpful insight on why the probate process can take so long:

  • What can slow down the probate process?

  • Should you hire a probate attorney? 

  • How long does probate take?

  • How to speed up the probate process

[Need help with probate? We offer helpful probate services and will work with you to find the plan that meets your needs. Learn more.]

What can slow down the probate process?

The probate process can take so long and 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 off 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

  • The decedent did not have a Will  

  • 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. Some lawyers charge a consultation fee (generally the cost of an hour of their time at their hourly) rate, while others will not charge you for this initial meeting. After the initial meeting, you may be given homework to get the attorney information they need to prepare the initial set of probate pleadings. You may provide this in a questionnaire, or you may meet with the attorney or the attorney’s staff again. 

Finally, the initial set of documents will be prepared, but two or more months may have already passed and nothing has yet happened in probate court. 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

  • Taking possession of estate assets and accounts: 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.  

One of the main limits 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, 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.

Probate can be slow and uncertain when you try to go it alone. If you instead choose to hire an attorney, attorney’s fees may be a significant expense. Using a probate service can 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, schedule a free consultation and we can go over the best options for your case.

Of course, the best way to speed up the probate process is to be proactive in your own planning. Establishing an estate plan of your own can help your loved ones navigate the complicated process. At Trust & Will, we’re here to help you keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific Estate Plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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