Probate is the name for the legal process of distributing assets after someone passes away. These assets can include bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, retirement accounts, life insurance, and financial investments. Before the assets can be distributed, however, they must first be gathered and used to pay creditors.
After that, the heirs can finally receive their distribution of the estate. However, even then, there are several factors that can still delay the distribution process. In our practice, it is common for probate to last about nine months. In more complex cases, probate can easily last several more months or even years. These delays ultimately mean less money and more headache for the surviving family.
Let’s go through the factors that cause delays in probate, and discuss what steps can be taken to minimize the delay.
1. Passing away without an Estate Plan
If you pass away without an estate plan, your loved ones will have to go to probate court. The court will appoint someone among them to be the “Personal Representative.” The Personal Representative will be responsible for contacting all of the financial institutions about your death. They will also be responsible for using your funds to pay creditors and ultimately make distributions to your heirs.
When there is no estate plan, the process for appointing a Personal Representative can be seriously delayed. The family will have to come to a consensus on who the Personal Representative will be before they present their choice to the court. Moreover, whoever is selected as Personal Representative is often not prepared for the role, as they had not been told to expect it. The process of going through all of your finances and contacting all of your financial institutions might be overwhelming for them, especially if they did not know your finances very well. Moreover, they will be responsible for mediating tension between the family, which is made even more difficult if members of the family do not think you explicitly wanted them to serve as Personal Representative.
Having an estate plan would minimize all of these consequences and delays. By having an estate plan, your family will already know who you want to represent your estate, which will make the process for appointing a representative much smoother. The person you select to represent your estate will also be better prepared for the role, as they are aware that they will one day need to fulfill the role.
The best way to minimize delays in probate is thus to have a clear estate plan in place, and to let your family and loved ones know about your intentions.
2. Family Tension
Even with an estate plan, family dynamics can still play a major role in probate. For example, if the only major asset that you have at the time of your death is your house, and one of your heirs would like to live in it while the other heirs would rather sell it and keep the sale value, tension will ensue and attorneys may need to get involved. All of this will ultimately lead to a delay of the probate process, and may ultimately divide the family in an irreparable way.
Feuds such as the one described happen even in the most loving of families. To avoid these feuds, it is important to not only have an estate plan, but to have one drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with cases such as the one described and will be able to help you think through exactly what you would want to happen if these cases occur. Your estate plan will thus be better able to help your family navigate your precise wishes for your assets, ultimately easing tension and expediting the probate process.
Hiring an estate planning attorney to draft your estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to minimize probate delays.
3. Financial Complications
If you keep your finances private, it will be difficult for your intended heirs to know what to expect after you pass away. They may not even know where you bank and what financial investments you have. The more difficult it is for them to know your finances, the more difficult it will be for them to notify your financial institutions of your death and gather accounts.
Furthermore, if you are in debt or are not paying your taxes, your Personal Representative will be responsible for using your assets to pay your creditors and the IRS. This can cause serious delays to the probate process, especially if the Personal Representative was unaware. Creditors will ensure they receive their payments by filing claims against the estate through probate court. These claims ultimately slow down the probate process as each claim requires a hearing before a judge.
To save your family time, headache, and grief after your death, it is important that you keep your finances in order. Pay off debt when you can, and keep a clear record of it. File your yearly taxes appropriately. Let your loved ones (especially your Personal Representative) know of your finances and how to contact each financial institution in case something happens.
Even in the best of cases, probate takes a while. To minimize delays, we recommend having an experienced estate planning attorney draft your estate plan, clearly telling your loved ones of your intentions, and keeping your finances in order as much as possible. Your loved ones will already be filled with grief after your death. The best gift you can give them is preparation.
Here at Graceful Aging Legal Services, we offer software that can help our clients keep their estate in order. Contact us at 615-846-6201 or email@example.com if interested.