The reality is there is no way to predict how long a specific probate case will take. That said, understanding the factors that can delay probate could help you manage your expectations from the beginning.
While some cases take longer than others, one of the major downsides of probate, in general, is that the process can take time. For this reason, some make an estate plan to avoid probate entirely.
Steps in the Probate Process
There are multiple steps during the process, and achieving each of these steps can take time. The probate process is governed by the Florida Probate Code. Under the law, the process includes the following steps:
- Filing the petition. Each probate case begins with a legal document known as the Petition for Administration. Along with the petition, you must also attach necessary documentation, including the last will and testament.
- Await Letters of Administration. After filing the petition, the next step is in the hands of the court. The court will issue Letters of Administration to the person named as the representative of the state. This allows that individual to move forward with the process.
- Publish notice of creditors. Before the probate process can continue, the personal representative must publish a public notice to the creditors of the estate. These creditors then have an opportunity to file a claim.
- Accounting, distribution, and taxes. Once the creditor’s claims are dealt with, the final steps involve providing an accounting of assets to the beneficiaries. Next, the representative must distribute those assets and pay any necessary taxes.
Each of these steps takes time. For some steps, like the notice period for creditors, state law mandates a minimum amount of time that must pass before the process can continue.
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Factors that Affect the Probate Timeline
There are multiple factors that can slow down the probate process. Some examples include:
The Size of the Estate
It should come as no surprise that the size of the estate can impact the length of the probate process. The delays that are possible with large estates might not occur as frequently for smaller estates. This is largely due to the work required for each asset within an estate. The more real estate or valuable assets an estate has, the more time the personal representative will need to complete the process.
Few things slow down the probate process like disputes among beneficiaries. Sometimes, the more heirs and beneficiaries there are, the more likely there will be disputes. This is the case not only for large estates but also for relatively small estates as well.
Minor disputes can slow down probate, but a challenge to a will can grind the process to a screeching halt. Will disputes are a form of litigation over the benefits or heirs of an estate, and they can draw out the probate process substantially.
Lack of a Will
The probate process occurs both when there is a will as well as when there is not one. In general, the process is smoother when a will is in place. Without a will, the personal representative must follow the structure set out in the statute to distribute benefits. This can take longer compared to a process with a viable will.
The presence of a will does not guarantee smooth sailing, however. Poorly written wills can lead to confusion and increase the chances of a dispute. What’s more, wills that do not make arrangements for every asset in the estate can dramatically increase the amount of time needed to distribute things according to the decedent’s final wishes.
Avoiding Probate Entirely
Of course, probate will not take any time whatsoever if you avoid the process entirely. There are multiple estate planning tools that could help you meet your goals without ever placing any of your assets into probate at the end of your life. The use of tools like trusts, payable on death accounts, and even life insurance proceeds could transfer assets without the need of probate.
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Discuss the Probate Process with Us
If you are curious how long the probate process will take, you can come to us for help. We can help you understand what to expect throughout the process. Let the attorneys at Bogin, Munns & Munns assist with building your estate plan. Dial (407) 578-1334 for help now.
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