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The legal process that takes place after a person’s death is called probate. Probate can include validating a will, inventory of property and assets, property appraisal, and more. During this process, the property can be used to pay debts and taxes, leaving what’s left to be distributed among those with a rightful claim to the property. How long does the probate process take? That depends on several factors, leaving each case with a different time frame. Here at Heban, Murphree, & Lewandowski, we take time to understand the complexity to explain how long your case may take.
Understanding what probate is can help give an idea of the process and how long it may take. The probate process varies case by case. When someone dies, their property and assets can go through a legal process called probate, which involves the courts and lawyers. If a last will and testament are present, the property will be given to the appropriate heirs. If a will is not present, the property will be distributed based on the state’s succession laws. Regardless of the presence of a will or not, the court will supervise the distribution of the estate. A probate court will also work to dissolve any legal disputes and confirm the validity of the will if there is one.
The standard probate process follows a timeframe similar to this. This is typically how long the probate process takes.
The first few months (typically up to 4 months after a person’s passing) are used for preparing and filing a petition for probate by validating the will, identifying heirs, and choosing an administrator to oversee the estate.
From 3-6 months, there will be a court hearing on the petition for probate and documents will be issued if required. These documents can include orders for probate, liabilities, and responsibilities, and letters of administration. During this time, a notice will be sent to creditors.
The next 6 months are busy. If the deceased received medical benefits through the state, the Department of Health Services will be notified. During this time, the estate will also be inventoried and appraised to determine the overall value of the estate. The estate will then be used to pay bills and taxes. These include all federal and state taxes that are applicable, as well as estate administration costs and family allowances. Another step during this time is to approve or deny creditor claims and provide notice to the franchise tax board in cases where the heir is an out of state resident.
The next few months are used for tax clearance letters and filing a petition for the final distribution and accounting of the estate. Once the final petition is in, there will be a hearing for the petition followed by an order approving the distribution and accounting.
Next comes the distribution of the assets to all applicable heirs, a final discharge order, and the final distribution of estate funds.
While the average timeline is around 24 months, complex estates can take much longer. Small estates with few heirs and a will can even take as few as 6 to 9 months. If the deceased has investment holdings, it can prolong the probate process. The same is true if the person who passed held property in other states. If they were a business owner or owned a large art collection, the process can also be extended. These circumstances can prolong the probate process from start to finish up to 2 years! This is largely because of the need to hire experts in certain areas. These experts range from art experts to appraise a collection to a business valuation expert and tax attorney.
In some cases, probate isn’t needed. For estates valued at less than $100,000 and all given to a surviving spouse, an attorney can file for a release from the administration. Likewise, if the estate is worth less than $35,000 and given to other heirs, the attorney can file for a release as well.
Having a valid will available will help speed the process along. If the deceased didn’t have a will, however, it can extend the probate process while the courts make a decision on who should be appointed as the estate administrator.
Even if there is a will, if any heirs dispute the contents of the will, the process can take much longer. In the event an heir doesn’t believe the deceased was in the right frame of mind during the time the will was created and signed, they can challenge the will. In this case, a court hearing will be scheduled so the concerns of the heirs can be heard and resolved.
The legal process of probate can take as little time as 6 months or as long as 2 years. There are several factors on how long the process will take. The complexity of an estate will extend the process, as well as cases where heirs dispute the will. Small estates may not even require probate. Getting the probate process started as soon as possible ensures the estate closed as quickly as the courts can.
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