Probate’s length depends on the complexity of the case and whether you have anyone contesting. However, you can expect anywhere from six months to up to two years.
Likewise, you could have such a straightforward case that you are done, and the case is completed in two months – however, that is rare.
One of the first questions our clients ask us is how long they should expect probate to take. While you want it quick, and preferably painless, it is all based on the executor, size of the estate, creditors, and a few other factors.
Factors That Can Affect Your Probate Case Timeline
To help you better estimate and understand why some cases take longer than others, we need to discuss the three primary items: executor naming, settling, and closing.
First, the Executor Must Take over the Estate
The first step of probate is for an executor to take over and get started on their administrative duties. This takes anywhere from two to six months, although, we usually see this only last three months.
The letters of testamentary take time for an executor to receive, and then they must receive their court appointment. Time extends in this phase of probate when the information is not available, or court documents were not completed and submitted to the court on time for processing. Processing is a four to eight-week process alone. Therefore, when an executor is ill-prepared, it does take longer.
Once these letters are approved, then the executor is named official and can start taking over other tasks.
A few ways to speed this up would be to ensure all family members sign and have documents notarized quickly. Unfortunately, not all loved ones are inclined to help or even do so promptly. Therefore, most of the delays during this stage come from finding family members and getting them to sign necessary documents.
Likewise, court delays can happen – especially if the court is overrun with cases that month. The clerk may also go on vacation, or they have a docket too full to get to your paperwork right away. If your paperwork is not processed, you should follow up with it and see if you can expedite it or if there is a hold that you need to address.
Third Party Hearings
Some times, a third party hearing is required, such as a public administrator, to look over the estate. When a third party gets involved and the court appoints them, it can dramatically delay your probate case.
Second, the Estate Must Settle
Now, you are onto the second phase. This portion can take anywhere from seven months to as much as three years.
The settlement is by far the most complicated process of an estate. The executor is now administrating, and that means that they will collect all estate assets listed in the will, organize outstanding debts, pay any debts, file final tax returns, and possibly value any assets of the estate to ensure they are accurate.
Potential Hold-Ups at This Phase
You have a few reasons that this phase can take longer than you would expect, including:
- Institutions being Slow to Respond: Financial institutions are not quick to respond to requests for estate documents, including banks, lenders, and insurance companies. Therefore, the paperwork and lead times do vary.
- Asset Locations and Issues: Some assets are difficult to share or place a value on them, including shares for private companies or real estate that currently has a tenant refusing to move out so that you can sell the home for liquidation.
- Taxes: Estate taxes are complicated, and when a return is required, the process takes longer for the executor to compile the information and work with an accountant and attorney to get it all done.
Closing the Estate – the Final Phase
Now you are ready to close out the estate. But this is multiple steps in a single phase, and not something that goes quickly. In fact, it can take just 30 days or 12 months.
More documents are required in the closing phase, including all court forms that are distributed to beneficiaries to ensure they are given all necessary information.
The heirs must review any financial reports, and then they have a chance to contest the information. If a contest occurs, this process will take longer because it will require a court hearing just to address anything the heir contested.
Also, if anyone contests the validity of the will itself, you will notice a considerable delay. Not only do these take time, but they also can quickly drain resources tied to the estate – which may affect what beneficiaries receive in the end.
Speed Up the Process or Skip It Entirely
If you are creating a will but you want to save your family the hassles of probate, then you may consider a trust instead. Trusts allow you and your loved ones to bypass the probate phase, and you can distribute assets through the trust without having to wait years to complete the process.
Likewise, if you want to ensure your loved ones have a smooth probate process (without using a trust), then work with a qualified estate attorney who knows the New York probate lead times, common issues, and can draft a will that reduces the likelihood of errors/contests and other hold-ups.
If you are an executor and you find yourself facing multiple contests, beneficiaries unwilling to provide the information you need, and other stalls, you may want an attorney to assist you.
Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., has helped countless families create their estate plan, including setting up trusts, drafting wills that follow all laws and leave out any vague statements (a common cause for contests), and helping executors successfully close out an estate.
To explore your options, speak with him today for a free case evaluation or request more information online about his estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate services.