Probate is one of those mysterious events that most people misunderstand. You may have heard from others that the purpose of estate planning is to avoid probate. While planning well to avoid probate may spare your estate some money in the form of taxes, few people take the time to make those plans, leaving loved ones to face the uncertainty that accompanies the settling of an estate.
One of the most common questions people have about probate is how long it lasts. You may have read of celebrities dying without a will whose probate languished for years. Perhaps you have personal knowledge of someone whose heirs came into their inheritance almost immediately. Why do some probates take so much longer than others?
Complications to the probate process
A simple estate with a clear will may zip through probate in a matter of months. Such an estate may have no complex assets, little debt and a limited number of beneficiaries. In fact, the beneficiaries may be one of the most common complications to the probate process. If you expect to divide your wealth among your children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews, and some close friends, you can expect the process to take longer, especially if these people are scattered across the globe or do not get along.
Other factors that may delay the completion of probate include the following:
- Choosing an estate executor who is not fit for the job
- Choosing an executor who may stir up rancor or discontent among your heirs
- Having beneficiaries who are difficult to locate
- Having assets whose values are difficult to appraise
- Having assets in multiple states or outside the country
If your assets qualify your estate for the federal estate tax, your loved ones may only be feeling the beginning of the pinch. The IRS takes a considerable amount of time before it even begins processing returns for estate taxes. In fact, heirs of an estate that owes taxes to the IRS can expect to wait an additional year in some cases before seeing their inheritances.
Perhaps few other places in the country combine death and taxes as thoroughly as New Jersey. This state is one of only two that levies both an estate tax and an inheritance tax. Filing tax returns for these agencies adds even more time to the probate process. Fortunately, an estate planning attorney may be able to offer options to alleviate some of these burdens and prepare your estate in such a way as to minimize these complications that mire down the probate process.