One of the most common questions asked when it comes to settling an estate in Essex County or Middlesex County, MA is, “How long is this going to take?” The answer to that question is, of course, going to vary depending upon several factors. In some situations, probate may just take a few months; in others, it could take well over a year. Due to the probate court’s involvement, some of the time issues may be beyond your control. Keep in mind that any complications that may arise can cause further delays.
Location of the Parties
In today’s world, families are often spread out all over the country or, in some cases, across the globe. Where a personal representative of an estate lives can affect how long it takes to move through the probate process. Even though we live in a time where scanners and faxes and emails exist, some documents require an original signature. If the personal representative lives more than a driving distance from where the probate estate is being handled, the process can take a bit more time.
Number of Beneficiaries
The more people involved, the longer things are going to take. Documents have to be sent to all parties for signatures and then returned back to the attorney or the court. If the beneficiaries all live in different states or areas, obviously the time it’ll take to get those documents sent back and forth is going to be longer.
Potential for Conflict
The involvement of multiple beneficiaries can also increase the likelihood of conflict, which will also increase the amount of time it will take to settle the estate. Depending on the severity of the conflict, multiple attorneys may end up getting involved, leading to an even longer timeframe.
Will or No Will
If the deceased did not leave a will, expect a longer wait. The court is going to be more involved in an estate that is not subject to a will. A personal representative will be appointed by a judge, and the law will determine how the estate is distributed to the heirs. In situations where much of the process is left to the court to handle because there is no will, estate settlement will take much longer.
A Contested Will
Even when the deceased has left behind a will, an estate settlement can be delayed if one of the beneficiaries decides to contest the will. If there is any reason to believe that the will was signed under duress, that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to create the will, that the will was not properly signed, or that there was any fraud involved, the validity of the will can be called into question. Naturally, this will delay the probate process.
A Taxable Estate
Before any part of the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries, there needs to be a determination as to whether or not the estate is taxable. If an estate is taxable, it cannot be closed until a letter is received from the Internal Revenue Service and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue which may take several months. State taxes can also slow things down a bit, especially if the deceased owned property in more than one state.
Obviously, a person who owns multiple properties, has several investments, and owns a business is going to have a more complicated and lengthy probate process than someone who owned very few assets and had no investments. In some states, settling the estate of an individual whose assets are valued below a specific amount is as simple as just transferring those assets to surviving beneficiaries. This could happen within a couple of months.
Avoiding Essex County and Middlesex County Probate Completely
Working with an estate planning attorney can make probate completely unnecessary. Your attorney can work with you to make sure that your assets go into a living trust so that they’ll automatically be passed to your surviving beneficiaries. They can also advise you on how to set up your assets, including real estate, in ways that will allow them to easily be transferred to your spouse or children.
There’s no easy way to say how long probate should take, but one year is a good rule of thumb. An estate that includes a clear will and beneficiaries who can get along may take less than a year whereas one that involves taxes, challenges, multiple attorneys, or other complications can drag on much longer.
If you have questions about an estate that
must currently go through probate, or if you’d like to set up a plan to ensure
that your heirs can avoid probate when you are gone, simply contact our probate
and estate law firm serving Essex County and Middlesex County at (978) 825-0033
to schedule a consultation.
 the Massachusetts probate code new term for executor/administrator