At some point in your life, you will likely be involved in the probate of an estate. You may be the Personal Representative for a loved one’s estate, or perhaps you are a legatee under the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Regardless of the reason for your involvement, you will undoubtedly have questions about the process and how long it takes.
Most people leave behind an estate when they die. Depending on how assets are titled determines the administration course. Probate is the legal process by which assets in a decedent’s sole name are identified, valued, and eventually distributed to the legal heirs or legatees of the estate. If the decedent leaves a valid Will, the individual named as the Personal Representative is responsible for overseeing the probate process and the terms control how the assets are distributed. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, someone typically petitions to become the executor and state intestate succession laws dictate the distribution.
Every estate is unique, making the probate process different everywhere. Numerous factors impact the process, but the following are five steps that remain common for most estates:
- Starting the probate process. The Personal Representative initiates the probate of the estate by filing a petition and the original Last Will and Testament with the Court.
- Inventorying, securing, and valuing assets. The Personal Representative must complete an inventory of the decedent’s assets, including both tangible and intangible. Those assets must also be secured and maintained throughout the process.
- Notification of creditors and payment of claims. All potential creditors of the estate must be notified that probate is underway. Typically, publication is in a local newspaper of general circulation.
- Prepare, file, and pay taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal estate and gift taxes. In addition, some states, including Maryland, impose an estate tax and inheritance tax. All returns must be prepared and filed with both the state and federal government and any taxes paid.
- Transfer of assets. Finally, assets are transferred to the intended beneficiaries or heirs.
Given the numerous factors that can impact the probate process for a particular estate, it is impossible to know exactly how long it will take ahead of time. In Maryland, probating even a relatively modest and uncomplicated estate will take a minimum of seven to nine months due to creditor filing periods. Only once that window passes, accountings filed, and all claims addressed can probate be concluded. If the estate included valuable and/or complex assets, or there is litigation, it can take several years. As there are always unknowns that can occur in the process and as court authority is needed for distribution, many people choose to include probate avoidance tools and strategies in their estate plan. Sinclair Prosser Gasior can assist with the estate administration and work through the probate process, regardless of the how long it takes.