As you have read on my blog numerous times, proper estate planning is essential to making sure that your loved ones are taken care of in accordance with your wishes. One of the goals for many people is to avoid the probate process entirely. This is because probate can take a really long time, and people do not want their loved ones to have to wait, or worse, to have a protracted legal battle to get their share.
Probate is notorious for dragging on for many months to several years, depending on numerous factors. Some factors that can lead to a drawn-out probate of an estate include:
- Whether the decedent died intestate. If a person dies without a will, then that person has left no legal guidance as to how their property will be divided. This leaves the decisions to the probate court, who must divide the estate in accordance with the intestate statutes.
- A poorly chosen executor. It is critical to choose an executor who can be trusted to meet their fiduciary duties, who is smart enough to follow the law, and who is diligent enough to perform the many crucial tasks of carrying out a will. An executor who fails in any of these regards can lead to significant probate delays and enormous financial losses for the estate.
- Are there problems with the will? Are there challengers to the estate? If so, this means the potential of lengthy litigation, which will require contested hearings that busy probate courts will have difficulty finding the time for.
- The number of beneficiaries matters, as does the relationships between beneficiaries. This is because more beneficiaries make the calculations regarding distribution more complex. And if beneficiaries have bad relationships or believe that they are entitled to a bigger piece of the overall estate, this leads to time-consuming, contested litigation.
- How large is the estate and what is the nature of the assets? Assets must be properly valued, and that value must be approved by the probate court. If the estate is large, it is going to take some time to discover and assess all assets that belong to the estate. In addition, if there are unusual or complex assets, such as private business interests or copyrights, then it will be necessary to find and hire appraisers who can properly assess such assets.
- How much debt does the estate owe? If there is sizeable debt, then the executor will have to work with creditors to settle this debt prior to distributing any property to heirs. This may involve lengthy negotiations as well as liquidating property to satisfy the debts.
- Is the estate subject to State or Federal estate taxes? Only large estates are subject to estate taxes. This means that in addition to the complexities that come with a large estate, an executor has to spend the time properly preparing and reporting federal and state estate taxes.
Contact a Probate Attorney
Thoughtful estate planning can help to avoid many of the aforementioned factors that lead to a prolonged probate process. If you are interested in developing a smart, methodical estate plan, contact the Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas. I have practiced in the areas of probate, estate planning, and taxation for decades and have a Master of Law Degree (LLM) in Taxation. Let me help guide you toward your goals. Contact The Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas at 847-392-5893 for an appointment or visit our website today.