A will is the legal instrument that allows a person to establish how his estate will be managed and distributed after his death. The process of settling an estate is known as "probate." The length of time needed to execute probate varies greatly depending upon the size of the estate, the complexity of the holdings and any challenges to the estate. People can try to avoid probate by using a "living trust," but a living trust almost never totally avoids probate.
First Order of Business
The estate will most likely have to go through probate, guided by the executor of the estate and an attorney. Within the first month, and up to four months for a large estate or in states without streamlined procedures, the estate follows the instructions laid out in the will and prepares and files a petition for probate. This is followed by a hearing on the petition. Letters of administration are issued, followed by orders for probate. Then duties and liabilities are identified and, if ordered, a probate issue bond is issued and notice is sent to creditors.
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Between four and seven months, notice is sent to the department of health services, and an estate inventory and appraisal begins. Approximately six to 12 months following the death, the estate goes through the probate process. Creditor claims are either allowed or rejected during this time. Notice is sent to the tax board if an heir or heirs of probate reside out of state. Preliminary distribution of inheritance can take place during probate, and state and federal taxes are paid on the estate, if necessary, immediately following probate.
Wrapping Things Up
Within seven to 16 months, a petition is filed for final distribution and accounting of the estate, followed by a hearing on the petition. After around eight to 20 months, an order approving the final distribution, as dictated in the will and accounting for the estate, is issued. This is followed by distribution of assets to heirs of the probate, and the final discharge order of the estate in probate. Final distribution of estate funds, which concludes the probate, can take eight to 24 months.
Many states offer an abbreviated process for resolving smaller estates. The advantages are a significant savings in time and expense in the distribution of estate assets. The process takes at least six to nine months; it can take longer if the estate has assets that are difficult to sell, there are tax problems or someone contests the will.
According to the Oregon State Bar, for example, as of 2010, if an estate's personal property is valued at less than $75,000 and real property is less than $200,000, a request can be filed with the court for the abbreviated procedure. The amounts could change in Oregon, and may differ in other states. However, if you are dealing with a small estate, consult with an attorney to determine if such a procedure is available in your state.