The word Probate, like many other legal terms comes from Latin, meaning proof. Probate is the court process that determines whether a decedent’s Last Will and Testament is real, legally valid, and enforceable. The process has a reputation for lasting a long time, but this may not always be the case. Many factors can play into how long probate actually takes. Some estates may settle after several months, six to nine in shorter cases. Other cases may take a year or more.
There are many steps in the probate process, and all of them are necessary in order to transfer the assets from the ownership of a deceased individual into the ownership of one of their living beneficiaries. Taxes and outstanding debts must also be paid before this can happen. The process can be extremely slow when there are complications such as a Will contest, a multitude of debtors, or hard to find assets and/or beneficiaries. In addition, since the decedent’s as well as the estate income and other taxes need to be settled, this can often delay an already slow moving process. Since many tax forms are not generated and received until the end of the year, that means work on the tax returns cannot start until after several months have already elapsed.
The laws established minimum waiting periods that the probate process needs to take. The legislators enacted these laws because they wanted to protect innocent debtors and potential beneficiaries and made sure that enough time would pass while the court case was open so as to allow people to come forward and state their claims. Generally, probate can take longer the more beneficiaries there are or the more complicated a person’s Will or family situation is. If beneficiaries live far from the probate court where the case is taking place, it could take longer to complete. Sending documents back and forth between multiple people located in various places can be tedious.
It’s worth noting that two beneficiaries may not agree on absolutely everything that must happen with an estate, let alone three, four, or more. Some beneficiaries also end up hiring their own attorneys to monitor the process. If the beneficiaries disagree with the work the executor is doing as far as managing the estate, the process can take even longer.
Probate will be open for a long time if there is a Will contest. Issues will only usually be resolved after court mandated mediation or a long court trial.
Then, there’s the possibility that the deceased did not have a Will. The estate must still be probated in this case, and the court will still be involved in the process. It will be up to the judge to appoint an executor because the deceased did not do so. The law establishes a priority as far as the people allowed to step forward and request being named executor of the estate. State law will then determine which heirs will receive bequests from the estate and in what percentages. Steps that would have usually been simple could take much longer if there is no Will.
Probate can take much longer depending on the state, too. Probate in Colorado can be a lengthy and costly process. If beneficiaries do not receive proper guidance, a dispute could arise among heirs and cause the probate process to take years. Common reasons probate can take a while include; waiting on a notice to creditors, resolving disputes among beneficiaries and creditors, completing an inventory, and delays that come with the court system.