The typical, straightforward probate cases that we handle usually take about three to six months from the initial filing to the close of the case. Why do some cases take more than six months and sometimes even years? This article covers three common reasons that a probate case may take up to years to complete.
One of the most common delays in probate cases that we handle are related to disputes about the estate. This may be a challenge based on who are the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. Another challenge that we see is where the decedent had one or more Wills drafted throughout their lifetime. One family member will want to admit a Will and another family member or beneficiary claims that the other Will should be admitted.
Any probate dispute related to the admission of a Last Will and Testament or who the proper heirs to the estate are will take time to resolve with the court. Most often, these issues will require the different sides to file briefs or memoranda with the court so that the judge can be made aware of the details of the dispute. Then, there will usually be a court hearing where the judge will hear the arguments of the two (or more) sides of the dispute based on the law and what happened in that specific case. After the hearing, the judge will usually enter a ruling on the dispute determining whether the individual is an heir of the estate or whether the disputed Will should be entered into probate. Once the disputes are resolved, the probate case still has to be handled to ensure all creditor claims are handled, assets are in the estate, and the distribution is completed appropriately.
Please note, the disputes listed here are not exhaustive. There are other disputes in probate cases that may cause a delay in the case but are not listed here. The examples provided are given for the purpose of illustration of a dispute that may cause delay.
Another way that these disputes can drag on is if the party that is unhappy with the result files an appeal. Although technically the probate case is closed out, the matter is still pending until the appeal is decided and finalized.
2. Personal Injury Lawsuits
If a wrongful death is filed or personal injury claim was filed by the Decedent before they passed away, these matters have to be handled in part by the estate. While the personal injury matter is handled by a Personal Injury firm, most cases also require a probate estate be opened.
If there are settlement negotiations for a claim of the Decedent, the proceeds of the settlement will go to the estate. Therefore, it is important for the probate to be opened and a Personal Representative appointed so that the interest of the estate can be properly represented. Personal Injury cases may take years to reach a settlement of the claim. While the settlement talks are occurring, the probate case may be sitting there waiting for the settlement agreement. This is another reason that a probate case can take longer, because the probate cannot be closed until the settlement is agreed on, paid to the estate, and properly distributed to the proper beneficiaries of the estate.
3. Estate Assets
Another reason for delay in a probate matter is related to the assets of the estate. With assets held by another institution, such as a bank account that is only in the Decedent’s name, the Personal Representative of the estate and their attorney must contact the institution and go through their process for accessing the assets. Sometimes banks will only communicate by mail or may require a third party authorization to discuss the account with the attorney representing the estate. While in one case this may not cause much delay, there may be a case where the decedent had several bank accounts all with different banks. This will take longer because each bank has to be contacted and their processes for transferring the account balances to the estate often vary.
Another estate asset that will likely cause the probate process to take longer is a house or other real property that is being sold in the probate matter. In some cases, the property will be transferred to the beneficiaries or heirs and they will sell the property after the probate matter is concluded. In other scenarios, the property is sold while the probate matter is ongoing. This could be for a number of reasons such as the property is being sold to pay the debt obligations of the Decedent or a buyer is interested in the property but there is a dispute over who should get the house. If there is any dispute or question about the transfer of the property, the approval of the court to complete the sale or transfer may take more time.
Not all transfers or sales of property are going to cause a long delay, but the more complicated the transaction, the longer it will likely take for the court to approve it and for the transfer or sale to occur.
What can you do to help your lawyer speed up the probate process?
The first thing that we recommend to help your lawyer speed up the probate process is to provide them with the information that they need. The initial documents that need to be filed to start the case require particular information such as the last known address and social security number of the person who passed away. The sooner your attorney has this information, the more quickly they can proceed with drafting the necessary documents and filing the case.
Check out our article, Affidavit of Heirs: Speed Up the Probate Process by Locating Heirs for more information about how helping your attorney locate the potential heirs of the estate can aid with the progression of the case.
Another suggestion we have is to communicate in a timely manner when your attorney contacts you. Clients are busy and so are lawyers. But it helps everyone involved if the communication between the client and the lawyer can be effective in providing details or answering questions related to the case.
If you have questions about a probate matter, please contact The Probate Law Firm. We are happy to schedule a time for you to speak to us about your potential case.