After a loved one dies, you have many details to take care of. You may find these welcome distractions as you deal with your grief and loss. Sooner or later, however, you will have to deal with your loved one's estate, and that often means going through the probate process.
Probate is the legal process for paying off your loved one's creditors and distributing any assets in the estate. If your loved one created a careful estate plan, probate may not be necessary. However, very few people take this step. Your loved one may not even have a will. Even if there is a will, you may quickly realize that certain factors can make an already long process even more complicated.
Common probate snags
Until probate is underway, it is difficult to say how long it will take. A simple estate with a valid will may take several months. If your loved one died intestate -- that is, without a will -- you can expect probate to take longer. Other factors can cause the process to drag on for additional months, and some estates spend a year or more in probate while the parties involved deal with various disputes. Some factors that may complicate the probate process include the following:
- The executor: If your loved one's will named an executor who lives far from the New Jersey estate, you can expect a longer probate to allow the executor to handle documents that must have original signatures. This may involve travel time to the attorney's office.
- Taxes: Owing federal estate taxes may add six months or longer to probate while the IRS completes its review of the tax returns.
- Assets: The more complex the assets in the estate, the more time it will take to agree on appraisal values and determine how best to divide them.
- Heirs: If your loved one named many heirs, especially heirs who live far away, probate will include contacting them individually and obtaining original signatures from each.
- Disputes: Even a limited number of heirs may disagree on how probate is progressing. Some may hire lawyers to challenge the executor's actions or dispute the validity of the will.
Probate is a complex process by itself, but it is not uncommon for additional factors to create a more complicated situation. While careful estate planning may prevent some of these conflicts, you may wish to reach out for your own legal advice during your loved one's probate.