Why does probate take so long?

After a loved one dies, one of the most common legal questions from surviving family members is how long probate will take. This is a fair question, since throughout the process, the executor and family members may feel responsible for maintaining the property-and they may be unable to move forward with their lives until they have permission from the Pennsylvania probate court. Additionally, some heirs may be relying on their inheritance.

If you recently lost a loved one, you may feel frustrated by the long wait. You can take comfort in knowing that things are happening that you may not realize-and unless something occurs to stall the process, the probate process should conclude in less than a year.

Slow and steady

The normal steps of probate include notifying the heirs, paying any lingering bills and debts of the deceased and distributing the assets according to the will. While this may seem like something you could do in a day or two, the courts move slowly to ensure all actions are valid and lawful.

Additionally, even with the convenience of electronic communication, most probate documents require original signatures with witnesses, so the court allows time for those involved to review and sign documents.

What slows down probate?

Despite the seeming simplicity of probate, there are factors that could cause the process to drag on longer than usual, for example:

  • The estate executor lives in another state
  • There are creditors who have a claim on the assets
  • The deceased owes federal estate taxes
  • The will includes numerous beneficiaries, all of whom may not get along
  • Someone intends to contest the will
  • Your loved one had complex assets that the executor must have appraised

Of course, if your loved one did not prepare a will, the process may become even more complicated since the court will disperse the assets according to state law. This may result in disputes or legal actions among those who feel they are unjustly excluded from the estate. On the other hand, if your loved one prepared the estate with a living trust, probate may be much shorter or even unnecessary.

Throughout the process of probate, you may have questions or concerns, particularly if you feel your rights as an heir are in jeopardy or if you have the bittersweet responsibility of being executor of the will. Many find that probate goes more smoothly if they seek the assistance of an experienced attorney.

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