If you recently lost a family member or close relative there is a good chance that the decedent’s assets are going through the probate process, or will be soon. If you are involved in the process, as the Executor/Personal Representative, a beneficiary/heir, or even a creditor, you may be wondering how long it will take to get through the probate process. Because each estate is as unique as the owner of the estate, it is impossible to determine ahead of time exactly how long it will take an estate to make it through the probate process. By understanding the steps involved in the probate process, however, it may give you a better idea of how long the process is likely to take in this case.
What Is Probate and Is It Always Necessary?
Probate is the legal process that typically follows a death. Probate is required to ensure that assets owned by the decedent are property transferred to their new owners and that all debts of the decedent are paid, including taxes.
Alternatives to Formal Probate in North Carolina
One factor that will directly impact the amount of time it takes to get through probate in North Carolina is whether or not the estate is required to go through formal probate or qualifies for an alternative to formal probate. When a decedent dies leaving intestate personal property valued at $20,000 or less a small estate affidavit may be used in lieu of formal probate.
Although every estate is unique, and therefore the probate of every estate is equally unique, there are some steps that are common to the probate of almost any estate, including:
- Opening probate – the probate process is initiated by the Executor of the estate as determined by the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or by someone who volunteers to be the Personal Representative if the decedent died intestate, or without leaving behind a valid Will. The original Will, if applicable, must be submitted to the probate court along with a petition to open probate.
- Identifying and locating heirs in an intestate estate – if the decedent died intestate, the legal heirs of the estate must be determined by the court. A diligent search must then be made to locate those heirs.
- Notifying creditors – creditors of the estate must be notified that probate is underway. This may be done individually for known creditors but must also be done by publishing a notice of probate in a local newspaper.
- Reviewing creditor claims – creditors have a specific period of time within which a claim against the estate must be filed or it is forever barred. Submitted claims are reviewed and approved claims are paid out of estate assets.
- Litigate challenges to the estate – if a Will contest is filed the contest must be litigated before probate may proceed because the manner in which the estate is probated will depend on the outcome of the litigation.
- Paying estate taxes – a federal estate tax return must be prepared and any gift and estate tax obligation paid.
- Transferring assets – finally, the remaining estate assets are transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate.
How Long Does It Take to Get through the Probate Process?
The amount of time it takes to get through formal probate can vary dramatically; however, it will take a minimum of about four months in North Carolina because creditors of the estate have 90 days from the date of publication of the notice of probate to file claims against the estate. It can easily take close to a year for even a small estate to make it through the probate process. As a general rule, the more valuable and complex the estate assets are, the longer it will take to make it through the probate process. Another factor that can impact the time it takes to get through probate is the choice of Executor. A competent Executor is able to move the estate through probate faster which is why it pays to choose wisely when appointing an Executor in your Last Will and Testament.
If you have additional questions about the probate process in the State of North Carolina contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Cheryl David by calling 336-547-9999 to schedule an appointment.