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Probate Process and Timeline

If you ask how long a typical probate process take, the answer is "it depends." Every probate process varies by state and by individual case because of the different requirements and procedures that may apply. While there are ways to avoid probate, some states will require it in certain circumstances. Read on to learn about the basic probate process and timeline.

Understanding the Probate Process

Probate, which is a court-supervised of sorting and administering a person's estate, begins upon a person's death. A person can pass away either intestate or testate. If the person passes away testate, the property will be transferred to the beneficiaries named in the decedent's will. If the person passes away without a valid will, the property will be distributed according to state's intestate succession laws. Either way, the probate court will be in charge of supervising, distributing, and administering the decedent's estate. The court will also be in charge of settling any legal disputes regarding the estate or the validity of a will.

In a will, a person usually names a specific person as an executor, who will be responsible for managing the decedent's affairs. If the decedent fails to name an executor or dies intesetate, the probate court will appoint a personal representative to fulfill the executor duties.

Probate Process Timeline

The probate process begins when the executor presents the will for probate at a probate court where the decedent lived or owned property. The court will first collect all of the decedent's property. Then, the estate will pay any debts, claims, and taxes that are outstanding. After necessary papers are filed and approved, any remaining property will be distributed to the appropriate heirs.

The length of time for probate depends on several factors, such as the size of the estate, the number of taxes and debts to pay, tax issues, the number of heirs, and any contested issues of a will. A typical probate process will take up to 24 months from the date of the decedent's death. However, in cases of contested issues or lawsuits, the process may take up to several years, or even decades, to settle the issues and conclude probate.

Here's a basic timeline and specific steps for a typical probate process.


Probate Process Description

1 to 4 months

Prepare and file "petition for probate" by:

  • Proving the validity of a will
  • Choosing an estate administrator, executor, or representative
  • Identifying all heirs and other relatives

3 to 4 months

Court hearing on petition for probate

3 to 4 months

Issue the following documents, if applicable:

  • Letters of administration
  • Letters testamentary
  • Orders for probate, duties and liabilities

3 to 5 months

Issue probate bond (if ordered)

3 to 6 months

Notice to creditors

6 to 12 months

Notice to Department of Health Services (if the decedent received medical benefits)

6 to 12 months

Estate inventory and appraisal to calculate the estate's value

6 to 12 months

Pay bills and taxes:

  • All applicable taxes, state and/or federal
  • Estate administration costs
  • Family allowances

6 to 12 months

Accept or deny creditor claims

6 to 12 months

Notice to franchise tax board (if the heir is an out-of-state resident)

8 to 15 months

Tax clearance letters

7 to 15 months

File petition for final distribution and accounting

8 to 16 months

Hearing on petition for final distribution and accounting

8 to 16 months

Order approving final distribution and accounting

9 to 18 months

Distribution of assets to heirs

9 to 18 months

Final discharge order

9 to 24 months

Final distribution of estate funds, concluding probate

Note: The above timeline may not apply to cases with more complicated issues or potential lawsuits.

Probate Costs and Fees

The probate process involves certain fees and costs, such as attorney's fees, the executor or personal representative fees, and court costs. These fees typically come out of the estate itself, which makes the heirs to get less portion of the estate. Because probate can be costly and time-consuming, people tend to look for other options to avoid probate.

Get a Free Case Review By a Probate Attorney

Navigating the probate process requires you to not only understanding the legal concepts and requirements involved, but also knowing the state-specific rules and procedures. If you're involved in the probate process, get a free case review by an experienced probate attorney, who can guide you through the process and answer questions. 

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help with the probate process.

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