Probate can be easily avoided, but most estates are dragged through the process. Why? Many people fail to create an estate plan, so probate is required. And – others plan with just a Will, so probate is required. As a result, assets end up at the mercy of the court system, open to public scrutiny, and delayed passing to beneficiaries.
Frustratingly, probate can drag on for months – or even years. Here are some of the most common reasons why probate takes so long:
1. Many Beneficiaries. In general, estates with many beneficiaries take longer to probate than estates with just a few beneficiaries.
Why? It takes time to communicate with each and every beneficiary and, if documents need to be signed, there are always beneficiaries who fail to return their signed documents in a timely manner. Regardless of advances in modern technology and communications, it simply takes a long time to reach multiple beneficiaries, spread out across the United States or in a foreign country.
2. Estate & Inheritance Tax Returns. Estates are required to file an inheritance tax return in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And, Estates required to file an estate tax return at the federal level are usually complicated. The personal representative can’t make a final asset distribution until she is absolutely sure that the state inheritance tax return and the federal estate tax return have been accepted and the inheritance/estate tax bill(s) has/have been paid in full. At the federal level, it can take up to a year before the IRS gets around to reviewing and accepting an estate tax return.
3. Angry Beneficiaries. Nothing can drag out the probate process like a family feud. When beneficiaries don’t get along or won’t speak to each other, the personal representative may be forced to go to court to get permission to do just about everything. That takes time.
4. Incompetent Personal Representative. A personal representative, who is not good with money, irresponsible, disorganized, or busy with his job or family, will drag probate on and on. Why? Because a personal representative must efficiently and effectively handle the responsibilities and duties that go along with serving. It’s a lot of work.
What Can Be Done to Speed Up Probate?
The best way to speed up probate is to avoid it altogether. Avoidance is the only way to eliminate probate delays. If properly drafted and funded, a Revocable Living Trust will avoid probate perils, stresses, and delays.