How Long Does Probate Take?

It is reasonable to expect that a simple probate estate will take approximately five or six months to properly handle. Probate is a court-supervised process for identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person (decedent), paying the decedent’s debts, and distributing the decedent’s assets to his or her beneficiaries. Probate is necessary to pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Probate is also necessary to wind up the decedent’s financial affairs after his or her death. Administration of the decedent’s estate also ensures that the decedent’s creditors are paid if certain procedures are correctly followed.

The length of the probate process, however, depends on the facts of each situation; some probate administrations take longer than others. For example, the personal representative may need to sell real estate prior to settling the probate estate, resolve a disputed claim filed by a creditor, or resolve a lawsuit filed to challenge the validity of the Will. The size of the estate, the number of creditors, and the number of beneficiaries could also affect the probate process. Any of these circumstances, if present, would tend to lengthen the process of administration. Even the simplest of probate estates must be open for at least the three-month creditor claim period.

The necessity of filing a federal estate tax return would also prolong the probate process. In 2014, a federal estate tax return is required for estates with combined gross assets and prior taxable gifts exceeding $5,340,000.00. In 2015, an estate must be in excess of $5,430,000.00 to necessitate the filing of a federal estate tax return.

Therefore, most relatively simple estates do not require the filing of a federal estate tax return. If the estate does not have to file a federal estate tax return, the final accounting and other documents necessary to close the probate estate are first due within 12 months after the court issues Letters of Administration to the personal representative, which appoints him or her as the personal representative of the estate. This period can be extended if necessary.

It is important to keep in mind that probate administration only applies to probate assets. Probate assets are those assets that the decedent owned in his or her sole name at death, or that were owned by the decedent and one or more co-owners and lacked a provision for automatic succession of ownership at death. A decedent could have many assets that pass outside of probate, such as transfer on death (TOD) or pay on death (POD) beneficiary designations, which thus are not included in the probate process and could result in a simpler estate.

The Elder Law Firm of Clements & Wallace, P.L. has extensive experience in estate planning as well as probate administration. Contact our elder law attorneys for an appointment to answer your questions and allow them to provide you with the peace of mind you deserve.