As the personal representative or executor of your loved one’s estate, you may be fielding many questions from beneficiaries who are anxious to obtain their share of the inheritance. One of the most common questions you may have to answer concerns the length of the probate process. Even for simple assets, the legal steps for closing an estate can seem to drag on indefinitely.
It can be difficult to wait for the process to run its course, but the wait is important. It gives the courts time to verify the identity of the heirs, valuate the assets and pay any lingering debts. The entire process can take months to a year, but there are factors that add complications to a probate and extend the wait even longer.
Factors that may complicate the probate process
Your role as the personal representative includes numerous interactions with the probate attorney and the heirs of the estate. Those interactions may require your signature on documents, and this signature must be original and not electronic or faxed. If you live outside North Carolina, this may create delays while the heirs wait for you to find an opportune time to travel to meet with the attorney. The same is true for beneficiaries who do not live close to where the probate is taking place.
Other factors that can extend the length of a probate include the following:
- Having too many beneficiaries makes it challenging to obtain signatures and reach agreements on vague stipulations in an estate plan.
- It only takes one problematic or argumentative heir to create a dispute that brings probate to a halt.
- Heirs who hire their own attorneys may make it difficult for you to carry out your duties without constant challenges.
- An heir who intends to contest the validity of the will can add months or years to the process.
- If your loved one’s estate qualifies for federal estate taxes, probate cannot proceed until the IRS completes this step, which may take longer than eight months after you file the estate tax return.
- Complicated assets, such as fine art, intellectual property or a share in the family business, may require independent appraisal before probate can continue.
Of course, the value of an asset is another element about which difficult heirs may dispute, and this may add more complications to the process. However, if you are fortunate to have a well- prepared estate to administer and the assistance of an experienced legal professional, you may be able to take the heirs through a smooth probate that will conclude in a timely manner.