While probate often seems like a dirty word in the estate-planning world, it is an important and necessary process for many estates. It is a way to ensure that the deceased person's final wishes are understood and carried out as closely as possible. This is more likely to happen when a will or other estate plan is in place, and such carefully prepared documents often hasten -- or even bypass -- the process of probate.
Nevertheless, an Arizona court must carefully inventory and value the assets, verify the heirs and pay any creditors who have claims on the estate. This can be complicated or relatively simple, and each estate is different. This is why it may be nearly impossible to say exactly how long probate might take. However, if you are currently waiting out probate for an estate from which you will receive an inheritance, you should know that there are certain factors that can prolong the process.
So close, and yet so far
If everything goes well and the decedent left a well-planned estate, you may expect the probate process to last up to a year. This may seem long, but any legal process is typically slow to allow every interested party a fair opportunity to make a claim. However, not every estate is simple, and some probates may last much longer than others may.
One important factor that may drag out a probate is distance. For example, if the personal representative of your loved one's estate does not live close to the probate attorney, the process stalls as this person travels back and forth to complete and sign necessary documents. In most cases, these documents must have original signatures, so sending them through emails or faxes would not meet the requirements.
Additionally, if you or other beneficiaries do not live near the probate attorney, you may also have to do some traveling to put your signature to documents. This may become even more complex if the court has difficulty locating any of the named beneficiaries.
Can't we all just get along?
While you may have complete trust in the designated executor of your loved one's estate, other beneficiaries may not be so trusting. It is not unheard of for beneficiaries to hover over and question the decisions and actions of the executor. Some even hire attorneys to do this, which can slow down the process considerably. Further, if there is a dispute over the validity of the will, more legal proceedings may need to occur before probate can get underway. Naturally, this may mean months added to an already lengthy process.
Unless your loved one has taken steps with his or her estate plan to bypass the probate process, you are likely to be waiting for some months for your inheritance. The more complex the estate turns out to be, the longer the process is bound to take. You may be fortunate to have fellow beneficiaries who get along and an executor who is on the ball or you may find yourself needing legal advice of your own to protect your interests and inheritance.