The loss of a parent, spouse or loved one is rarely easy even under the best of circumstances. Ideally, the deceased worked with an experienced estate law attorney to draft a thoughtful will or trust, but there may still be delays in the probate process regardless of how conscientious the planning was.
Probate can have a life of its own that goes on for months or more than a year. The reasons for this are varied.
Common examples of delays
Some are linked to the choices made by the decedent, while others are beyond their control:
- The number of beneficiaries: The executor or estate administrator is obligated to track down all beneficiaries, which can take time if there are a lot of them or they are hard to find. All beneficiaries must wait until everyone has signed the necessary documentation, which some may resist doing.
- Assets located outside the state: The decedent may have a house in Florida or property in Canada. This can lead to ancillary probates where these are located, adding layers of complexity to the probate process.
- Taxes owed: The IRS may require a federal tax return, which can take three or more months to process and additional time if there are discrepancies. The IRS must give its final approval before the estate can be closed.
- Unique assets: It can be hard to put an agreed-upon value to unusual assets like collections, mineral rights or art. This can lead to negotiating among beneficiaries.
- Disagreements: Well-crafted estate plans make the whole process go more smoothly with a clear plan of action, but conflicts or distrust slows the process and may lead to litigation.
- Competing wills: The court must look at all the wills to determine which is the right one.
- The executor: A spouse or child may not have the skills or interest in addressing all the necessary paperwork, negotiation and details involved in closing an estate.
The right administrator makes a difference
Legal professionals can either fulfill the role of an executor or effectively guide the chosen executor through the process. This latter service is particularly helpful when the executor does not live in the same place as the deceased. They can also provide a neutral point of view if there are disagreements.