Finding out that someone has left you an inheritance is certainly welcome news, particularly if you have been struggling financially. As the adage goes, however, you should not count your chickens before they hatch. You may end up waiting for a long time before you receive that inheritance. If the decedent’s estate is required to go through probate, it could take a year or longer before your inheritance can be distributed to you. Why does probate take so long? The Annapolis estate planning attorneys at Sinclair Prosser Gasior explain why the probate process takes so long and when you might expect to receive your inheritance.
Understanding the Probate Process
Most people leave behind an estate when they die. That estate consists of all assets, both tangible and intangible, owned by the decedent at the time of death. Probate is the legal process by which those assets are identified, located, valued, and eventually distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate. If the decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the individual named as the Executor in that Will is responsible for overseeing the probate process and that the terms of the Will are followed when determining how the estate assets are distributed.
If the decedent died intestate, meaning without a Will, someone typically volunteers to be the Personal Representative and oversee the probate of the estate. From there, Maryland’s intestate succession laws dictate how estate assets are distributed. The term Personal Representative is typically used to refer to either an Executor appointed in the Will or a volunteer appointed by the court.
Every estate is unique, making the probate process unique for every estate. Numerous factors can impact the probate process and how long it will take.
Here are the steps that are taken in most probate processes:
- Initiating probate – the Executor/Personal Representative (PR) initiates the probate of the estate by filing a petition, along with a certified copy of the death certificate and an original Last Will and Testament with the appropriate Probate Court.
- Inventorying, securing, and valuing assets — the PR must complete an inventory of the decedent’s assets, including both tangible and intangible assets. Those assets must also be secured and maintained throughout the probate process. A date of death value will be required for all estate assets as well.
- Notification of creditors and payment of claims –all potential creditors of the estate must be notified that probate is underway. This can be done individually for known creditors but must also be done by publication in a local newspaper for unknown creditors. The PR reviews all claims submitted and pays all approved claims, according to priority, using estate assets.
- Litigating disputes – is anyone challenges the validity of the Will submitted for probate, the entire probate process effectively grinds to a halt because the outcome of that litigation will determine how the estate assets are distributed at the end of the probate process.
- Prepare, file, and pay estate taxes — all estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. In addition, some states also impose a state estate tax. Estate tax returns must be prepared and filed with both the state and federal government and any taxes due paid.
- Distribution of assets to beneficiaries/heirs — the remaining assets are transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
How Long Will Probate Take?
Because every estate is unique, there is no “standard” time for moving through the formal probate process. In Maryland, however, probating even a modest and simple estate will take a minimum of eight to ten months. This is because creditors are given a minimum of six months to file claims against the estate. That time period must pass, and all claims must be addressed before any probate assets can be distributed from the estate. If the estate includes valuable and/or complex assets, or if the estate becomes involved in litigation, it can take several years to complete the probate process.
Contact an Annapolis Estate Planning Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. You can find all of our upcoming seminars on our website at www.spgasior.com/seminars. If you have additional questions or concerns about receiving an inheritance, contact an experienced Annapolis estate planning attorney at Sinclair Prosser Gasior by calling (410) 573-4818 to schedule an appointment.