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Probate Process, Steps, and Timeline

When a person dies, their estate may or may not have to go through the process of probate. Probate is the official process of proving a will and winding up the estate. Depending on the size and complexity of the state, probate can be simple and quick, or it can be a drawn-out process. Understanding the steps to probate and the usual timeline for those steps can help you understand when assets will be ready to distribute to heirs.

Is Probate Necessary?

Not every estate needs to go through the probate process. Simple estates can often bypass probate, as long as the deceased has designated you as a beneficiary. Even if they did not, if the potential heirs can agree, they may be able to skip probate. The rules and laws vary by state.

Probate Steps

While each state has its own laws regarding probate, they all follow the same basic steps.

  • Petition the court to open probate
  • Appoint an executor or administrator for the estate
  • Issue a probate bond if necessary
  • Provide notice to creditors
  • Collect debts due to the estate
  • Inventory and appraise estate assets
  • File federal and state income tax returns
  • Pay creditor claims
  • Petition for final distribution of probate and final accounting
  • Court issues final order of discharge
  • Administrator distributes estate funds

Probate Timeline

It is very difficult to estimate the length of probate because it varies so wildly from case to case. Simple estates can often clear the entire probate process in 6 months. In large estates, or in estates where some of the assets are unusual, it could take longer than that to even inventory and appraise all of the property. Those estates can take up to three years or more to conclude the probate process.

Additionally, there are outside factors that can impact the length of probate. For example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts shut down. When they reopened, they had a backlog of cases. Some courts have caught up, but other areas may still be dealing with a backlog. In those places, it may take longer to complete probate, even for a simple estate.

Need Money Before Probate Concludes?

If you need to access money before the end of probate, you have options. We offer probate advances. Sometimes called inheritance loans, probate advances let us purchase part of your expected inheritance. You get the benefit of having the money early, and we charge a fee for the service. Contact us today to find out more.