Whenever the time comes for an estate to be settled, many beneficiaries find themselves wondering how long the process is going to take. Orange County probate attorneys often tell clients that settling an estate through probate can take anywhere from eighteen months or longer here in California. In some cases, it may even take longer. The probate process, in general, depends on a few key factors, most of which are beyond anyone’s control.
Number and Location of Beneficiaries
For a simple estate with only a few beneficiaries, all of whom live in the same area, the process of settling an estate will be a bit quicker. If there are numerous beneficiaries, and some of them live in other states or even other countries, this could cause some delays. It’s going to take some additional time to get the appropriate documents sent off to the parties to be signed and for those parties to send the signed documents back to the lawyer or to the court. Even though scanning and emailing or faxing a document can be done in a matter of minutes, some estate documents require original signatures.
No Will Left Behind
In the event that the deceased did not leave a will, the process of settling the estate is going to take longer. The main reason for this is that settling the estate will fall into the hands of the court who will have to appoint an executor for the estate (California calls this person a “Personal Representative”). Going through the probate court to have an estate settled means being at the mercy of the court’s calendar which can be backlogged and not generally flexible. Not to mention, probate can be a very expensive process both financially and emotionally here in California. Watch this video on avoiding probate for a more detailed explanation.
Potential for Conflict
The potential for conflict is likely going to be higher based on the number of beneficiaries as well. Obviously, conflict can happen even when there are only two or three beneficiaries. But with more beneficiaries come more chances for disagreement between at least two of the parties. If the issues in question become too complicated, there may be multiple attorneys getting involved which can cause the process to drag on even longer.
A Contested Will
If a conflict does arise and someone decides to contest the will, this is naturally going to cause a delay. Someone may contest a will if they have reason to believe that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to create the will, that the will was signed under duress or fraud, or that the will was not properly signed.
A Taxable Estate
Before the assets of an estate can be distributed, the appropriate taxes, if any, need to be paid. This includes taxes in any state in which the deceased owned property. A taxable estate cannot be closed without a letter from the Internal Revenue Service indicating that the taxes have been paid, which could take several months.
If the assets belonging to the deceased were valued below a specific amount, the process of settling their estate can be quick and easy. In these situations, the assets are simply transferred to the surviving beneficiaries which can usually be done in less than a few months. An individual who had numerous investments or owned a business or multiple properties is probably going to have a more complicated estate which could take much longer.
Avoiding Probate Entirely
The best way to make settling an estate quicker (and save your family a lot of money!) is to avoid probate completely. An estate planning attorney here in Orange County can work with you to set up a revocable living trust, allowing your assets to be automatically transferred to your beneficiaries when you pass away. Your attorney can also advise you on setting up your properties, including business or real estate, in a way that makes it easy for them to transfer to your spouse or children.
The Long Answer
Again, there’s no set time frame for how long it takes to settle an estate. In general, plan on the process taking at least a year-and-a-half. If it’s a simple estate with the proper documents and no conflicts, it could take less time. However, an estate that includes multiple beneficiaries, a lot of assets, taxes, or other complications could take much longer. If there is an estate planning lawyer involved, he or she can usually give you a rough idea on what to expect based on your particular situation. If you find yourself in this situation today and need help navigating the process of filing for probate in Orange County, please contact us at (949) 333-3702 to schedule a consultation.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, veterans and teaching others how to protect what matters most: family, dignity, and legacy. Snyder Law helps parents from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and the greater surrounding Southern California area.