Factors Affecting the Probate Process

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on March 29, 2023

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Probate refers to the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person.

This process can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on several factors such as the size and complexity of the estate.

How Long Does It Take To Settle an Estate?

The probate process begins with the filing of a petition with the court. This petition is filed by the executor of the estate, who is appointed by the will or by the court in cases where there is no will.

The executor gathers all of the necessary information and documentation related to the estate and submits it to the court.

Once this information has been reviewed, the court will appoint an attorney to represent any heirs who may not be able to afford their own legal representation.

The attorney for the estate will work to resolve any disputes between heirs.

Once all disputes have been settled, the attorney for the estate will work with an appraiser and a financial institution to transfer assets from the deceased person's name to their heirs' names, as well as to pay off any existing debts.

Any remaining funds are distributed to the designated beneficiaries.

Probate can be completed through this court process or, in some cases, directly with the institution holding the property such as a bank.

The Duration of the Probate Process

The time it takes to complete probate varies depending on several factors such as: the size and complexity of your estate, the current demand for probate lawyers, whether or not there is a living trust involved, and where you live.

On average, the probate process in the United States takes about a year. However, if there are disputes among heirs or the estate is particularly complex, the process can take much longer.

Factors That Affect the Probate Process

Several factors can affect how long it takes to settle an estate through probate. They include:

State Where the Decedent Lives

Each state has its own probate laws and regulations, with some states being more complicated than others. If the deceased person lived in a more complex state, the probate process is likely to take longer.

The Uniform Probate Code (UPC) aims to create a more uniform probate process across all states, but it is not yet in effect in all states.

Size of the Decedent’s Estate

The size of the estate can also affect how long the probate process takes. If the estate is small and there are no complications, the process can be completed relatively quickly.

However, if the estate is large and complex, it will take longer for the executor to gather all of the necessary information and to resolve any disputes among heirs.

Debts and Taxes

Another factor that can affect how long the probate process takes is how much debt the deceased person left behind.

If the deceased person owed money or taxes at the time of their death, these amounts will need to be paid from the estate before any funds can be distributed to beneficiaries.

The executor will need to work with creditors to pay off any outstanding debts before filing the final accounts. Any taxes related to the estate will also need to be paid before a final account can be filed.

Disagreements Among Heirs

Another factor that affects how long it takes to settle an estate is any disagreements among heirs or beneficiaries.

The probate process can take much longer if there are multiple parties involved and each of them has a different idea about how things should be done.

Details of the Will

The type of document used to convey the deceased person's wishes for their estate will also affect how long it takes for an estate to settle.

For instance, wills that have been written correctly with clear instructions and have no problems with validity will settle more quickly than those which contain unclear instructions or which were not written properly.

Whether the Decedent Has a Living Trust

If the deceased person had a living trust, this will affect how long the probate process takes.

If the trust is valid and all of the required documents have been filed, the probate process can be bypassed entirely and the property can be transferred directly to the beneficiaries named in the trust.

However, if there are any problems with the trust or the required documents have not been filed, the probate process will need to be completed in order to transfer the property.

Sale of Property

The executor of an estate may also choose to sell some of the deceased person's property in order to pay off debts or distribute funds more quickly.

If this is the case, the executor will need to find a buyer, negotiate a price, and go through the legal process of transferring ownership.

If this is done, the sale will need to be approved by a court and will add additional time to the probate process.

The Bottom Line

In general, the probate process takes about a year to complete from start to finish.

However, this can vary depending on the state where you live, the size and complexity of your estate, and any disagreements among heirs.

To hasten the process, a financial advisor or estate planning lawyer can be a great help.

Probate Process FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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