probate document
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As an estate attorney, I am often asked how long does the probate procedure take. Simple question right. But the answer is not that simple, as the length of time it takes to distribute assets in an estate can vary widely depending upon the facts and the type of issues that are being handled in each individual matter. 

So, what type of factors come into play which can determine the length of time that an estate will remain open. Some of the factors that will be involved in determining how long it takes to fully administer an estate include:

  1. Whether the estate must be probated with the court.
  2. Whether assets are difficult to value.
  3. Waiting on information on unknown debts of the decedent and dealing with those debts.
  4. Dealing with multiple banks and brokerage firms in moving funds into estate accounts.
  5. Whether the decedent had an ownership interest in real estate located in a state other than the state they resided in.
  6. Whether the decedent’s ownership interest in any real estate will be sold during the course of the succession.
  7. Whether the estate must file a federal estate tax return, and does the estate have tax issues that needs to be handled.
  8. Whether there are a number of creditors that must be dealt with.
  9. Whether there are any disputes about the will or trust. 
  10. Are there disagreements among the beneficiaries about how things are being handled by the executor or trustee.
  11. Any type of litigation.

Although mentioned above in the list of factors, there is one factor that I would point out which is usually the main delay in distributing the estate. It’s important to keep in mind that before the distribution of assets to beneficiaries can be made, the executor must make certain to identify any creditors because they have an obligation to pay any legally enforceable debts of the decedent with those assets prior to distribution. Why this is important is that a beneficiary of the estate takes the good with the bad, which means they can become responsible for the debts of the decedent’s, up to the value of the inheritance, in most cases. That’s why having the executor of an estate work closely with an estate attorney in making sure all the debts are known and handled prior to placing the beneficiaries in possession of the estate.

In some cases, once the executor has a handle of the existing debts and had ample funds on hand to cover those debts, the executor may make a partial distribution to the beneficiaries during the pending administration but still hold back sufficient assets to cover any income or estate taxes and other administrative fees. That way the beneficiaries can get some benefit but the executor is assured there are assets still in his or her control to pay those final taxes and expenses. Then, once those are fully paid, a final distribution can be made. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 9 months to 18 months (sometime more) to fully complete. Of course, there are some successions that can be handled quickly, such as just a few short weeks. 

In closing, each case is different with a varying time frame. If you are a beneficiary, it is acceptable to call the estate attorney who is handling the succession with the Executor, to get an update on the time frame during the course of the succession. And of course, if they refuse to give you information as a beneficiary, or if you are concerned it’s not being handled correctly or promptly, you can speak to and hire you