If you’ve done any kind of estate planning, you’ve likely heard about probate. Or perhaps one of your friends has dealt with this process in court. Probate has a reputation for being lengthy, onerous, expensive, and emotionally draining, so it's no surprise why people worry about and fear it. Yet learning more about probate can demystify some of the confusing details. This following brief outline can help you understand why probate is often lengthy, costly, and dreaded by almost everyone.
Probate is a legal process with two objectives: validating a deceased person’s will and settling his or her estate. The probate court must first make sure that the person's will passes legal muster. Next, an assigned executor will oversee the estate's settlement. That includes identifying and paying creditors along with filing tax returns. Finally, the executor must distribute the remaining assets to the legitimate heirs.
Probate usually takes about nine months to complete. Keep in mind, however, that larger estates take more time to settle. The absence of a valid will or relatives contesting the will can complicate matters even further. If the decedent didn’t keep complete financial records, locating assets and verifying debts may take extra time and effort. Any of these factors could drag probate out to two years or more.
Every estate is different, requiring unique approaches and legal expertise. That’s why estimating the cost of probate can be a little difficult. Generally speaking, expenses can increase with longer and more complex estates. With probate's potential complexities and issues involved, a probate attorney is recommended. Many families pay between $5,000 and $10,000 in legal fees.
Throughout our lives, we collect both assets and debts. The probate process evolved to handle people’s estates. Probate courts handle authenticating wills, while executors pay off debts and distribute assets. Many factors can affect how long probate takes and how much it costs. Good planning strategies and expertise are key to navigating the process.