Losing a loved one can be difficult. The days, weeks, and months following a loss are often fraught with confusion, grief, and, in some cases, stress. It can be a hard time even before factoring in the complicated legal battles that so often accompany the death of a family member or beloved friend. It is often challenging to even know where to begin with the probate process.
One of the first questions many people have about probate is how long it will take. The answer depends on a wide range of factors, but generally speaking, settling a deceased person’s estate typically takes six months. Before diving into the specific factors that impact the length of probate, let’s discuss what probate actually entails.
Probate refers to the court-supervised process that is settling the estate of a recently deceased individual. If a last will and testament exists, probate works to validate the will and settle potential disputes over inheritance. If the person died without a will in place, the court would appoint an administrator.
The probate process also grants the executor named in the will the authority to oversee the estate in question. Responsibilities may include taking care of unpaid debt and distributing assets to the proper heirs.
While probate typically takes less than a year to finalize, it can sometimes take even longer. This depends mostly on whether anyone has plans to challenge the validity of the will or of particular bequests. To be considered enforceable and valid, wills must meet certain standards. If someone close to the deceased claims that the will was created through coercion or while they were not of sound mind, the legal fallout can take years to sort through.
The probate process can also be lengthened by the existence of more “complicated” assets like business interests. These are often trickier to distribute to a family’s heirs, especially when compared to more straightforward assets like personal bank accounts. The IRS can further complicate the probate process.
Anyone hoping their family can skip the lengthy and often expensive probate process should consider transferring their property to a trust. Revocable living trusts were created to help bypass probate entirely. Property in a trust is not subject to probate, so assets pass directly to heirs. It’s as simple as creating a trust document and transferring the property title to your trust.
You can also set up payable-upon-death designations. This allows you to name beneficiaries of the account while skipping out on probate altogether. Doing so is typically free but requires some legwork – you will want to contact your bank and brokerage firm for more information. Expect to do some paperwork and to follow up on your requests. Persistence pays off when you are trying to avoid probate. We also recommend getting copies of the beneficiary designations for your files.
Tax-free gifts are another great way to bypass the probate process. Giving money away before you pass helps keep the expense and length of probate to a minimum. You can gift heirs up to $16,000 a year without paying a gift tax penalty. Remember, the higher the value of your assets at the time of your passing, the higher the probate costs and the longer it will likely take to complete.
While it may seem like the creation of a will is just asking for an expensive or time-consuming probate process, it is important not to skip this important estate planning step. A quality plan will ideally distribute assets and property when and to whomever the deceased wished. Only a minimum amount of a person’s estate should go to things like taxes and attorney’s fees. Avoiding probate is the best way to achieve such goals.
If you are feeling unsure about the current state of your estate plans, schedule an appointment with a trusted attorney at Hegwood Law Group to review your options. Many of the specific questions you might have about your estate can be clarified in just a few moments’ time. By meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can minimize the odds of probate and set your family up for the brightest future possible. To schedule a strategy session, call (281) 218-0880 or contact us here.