How Long Does Probate Take Without a Will?

How long does probate take without a will? Dealing with the loss of a loved one is already a difficult process, so it’s easy to get frustrated when it comes to going through probate too. This lengthy and often difficult process can add even more stress to your life.

The probate process is one in which the estate of a decedent is properly distributed in accordance with their wishes. While difficult, it is an essential process to make sure rights and responsibilities to the estate are transferred how the decedent would’ve wanted.

While a will certainly helps with the probate process, the process can take a while either way. If there is no will, however, you’ll want help from an experienced lawyer to make sure the estate is distributed properly and without taking away from your time to grieve. One of the best things you can do is be prepared before getting started, so let’s look at how long probate takes when there is no will.

How Long Does Probate Take Without a Will?

Conflicts often arise during the probate process, and they’re usually resolved by simply referring to the will. When that isn’t an option, however, the process will generally take longer. Each state has different intestate succession laws, though they typically involve setting close blood relatives as equal inheritors. The probate process then determines which relatives get what. The size of the estate plays a major role in the length. Small estates are generally easy to probate without a will, only taking about six months or so, but larger estates left behind without a will can take over a year to probate.

The Importance of a Will

Having a will is the best way to speed up the probate process apart from hiring an experienced attorney to help. Every step of the process, including smaller steps, is lengthened without a will available. A major aspect of a will is appointing someone to act as a representative for the deceased. Without that, the state will have to appoint someone to represent the deceased, and that process alone moves at a snail’s pace. It’s up to the courts to carry out the process as they see fit, which means going at their speed. In a lot of cases, however, the person who is appointed as the personal representative of the deceased is the person who filed to start the probate process.

Starting Probate

To start the probate process without a will, all you need to do is file a petition in the court of the county in which the deceased’s primary residence is. That includes submitting the death certificate and some additional paperwork. Filers also have to notify all the descendants of the deceased about the probate and the court hearing.

Determining the Heirs

Without a will, the probate process has to rely on intestate estate laws to determine who the heirs are. While the exact laws can vary depending on the state the deceased lived in, there are some general trends in how they work. Heirs are typically prioritized starting with immediate family and followed by extended family. Within that, spouses tend to get most of the assets, followed by children, parents, and grandparents. After that, other blood relatives are considered, like cousins, nieces, and nephews. Assets that are jointly owned by the deceased’s spouse will, of course, go to the spouse automatically without a will in place.

Size of the Estate

Even without a will, a probate process can be relatively quick if there isn’t all that large of an estate to work with. For example, it won’t take long for the state to determine who gets to inherit a bank account and a house if that’s all the deceased really had in terms of assets. If the estate qualifies for a small estate affidavit, which is typically determined by falling below a certain dollar amount that varies from state to state, then the probate process can take a few weeks, even without a will. While a house can be problematic if it isn’t entirely paid off, determining the inheritance lines for a business is much harder. Any kind of family business almost always pushes the timetable of the process up to a year or more.

Number of Beneficiaries

The number of beneficiaries to the estate plays a huge role in the overall length of probate, especially when there isn’t a will. In fact, large estates with numerous beneficiaries are typically the longest probate processes, easily taking more than a year to complete. This is primarily because beneficiaries tend to disagree with who should get what. In fact, it’s not entirely uncommon for beneficiaries to each get their own lawyers.

Outstanding Debts

Before the probate process can be completed, any outstanding debts must first be taken care of. This can limit just how much inheritance that spouses, children, and other relatives can even have access to, as the creditors can access the money first if they make a claim. If the estate is especially small, however, this may be avoided entirely depending on the state the deceased lived in. One of the most important and impactful debts to consider is any debt to the IRS. Estate taxes will always be extracted first unless the IRS and state tax services send a closing letter. This alone can take six to eight months, but you’ll likely never have to deal with it at all. Very few estates are even subject to the estate tax, and those that are tend to have a will in place anyways.

Complicated Assets

The type of assets the deceased had can also affect how long the probate process takes. The actual value of the assets takes priority, of course, but the kinds of assets in question could make it harder to actually determine the value of the assets at the time of death. Complicated estates will have a longer appraisal process, which in turn drags out the entire probate process. If the only items of value are straightforward, however, like a house and a bank account, value appraisal is relatively simple and quick.

Summary of How Long Probate Takes Without a Will

Probate is the process by which the assets of a deceased person are distributed to inheritors. Without a will in place, determining who gets what part of the estate can be complicated and may take around a year or more if a decently sized estate is involved.

Every step of the process takes longer without a will in place, as the courts have to be involved along the way. To even begin, the court has to assign a representative for the deceased, which can take quite a while even though it usually ends up being the person who filed for the probate in the first place.

Small estates tend to enjoy faster probate times since there are fewer assets to distribute. Plus, straightforward assets are easily appraised and distributed properly. In fact, small estates — even without a will — are generally able to enjoy faster probate times than much larger estates that have a will but also have to deal with inheritor conflicts and complicated assets.

Hiring an attorney is the best way to speed up the process of filing for probate without a will. Not having a will slows things down considerably, but having a lawyer by your side can limit that as much as possible. We can help. Contact us today.

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