Making a long probate even longer
In Florida, as in other states, the probate process can be unpredictable. Even if the estate involved is relatively small with only one or two heirs, those heirs can expect to wait six months to a year before the process ends. If you have recently lost a loved one and are about to enter probate, you probably have many questions, including how long it will last.
Every estate is different, and many factors can influence how smooth or complicated probate will be. By understanding the steps of the process and those factors that can disrupt its flow, you may obtain a clearer picture of what you can expect with your loved one’s probate.
Questions and more questions
After death, a person can no longer legally own property. Probate is the legal process that determines what happens to that property. However, it is not always simple. The probate court must first ascertain the answers to many questions, such as the following:
- What are the assets that verifiably belong to the estate of the deceased?
- Are there any assets that may need professional valuation or that are complicated to appraise?
- Who and where are the rightful heirs of those assets?
- Is there a verifiable will that expresses the wishes of the deceased for distributing the assets, or will the court have to determine how to legally divide the assets?
- Does the will designate an executor, or will the court have to appoint one?
- Are there any creditors claiming the deceased owes unpaid debts, and are those claims valid?
- Are there any outstanding state or federal taxes the estate must pay?
Obtaining the answers to these questions may lead to additional issues. For example, if the heirs or the executor live far from the estate, the court will need additional time to send original documents back and forth to obtain signatures. A large number of heirs may also increase the likelihood of factions, suspicions about the executor’s actions or motions to contest the validity of the will. Outstanding taxes, including federal estate taxes, may take many additional months to resolve.
Ideally, a well-prepared estate plan will address many of these contingencies so that probate can proceed with minimal disruption. However, whether you are the executor or an heir to the estate, it is always within your rights to seek legal advice if you fear your interests are in jeopardy during the probate process.