Probate” means proof.  In the legal context, this means proof that the decedent’s will is legally valid and enforceable. During probate, the probate court determines whether a will is valid.  It also oversees the distribution of assets to specified individuals and beneficiaries, the payment of death taxes, appraisal, and the payment of probate costs such as lawyers’ fees, court fees, executor fees, and administrative costs. If the decedent did not have a will or has property that is not accounted for in the will, the probate court will also ensure that property is distributed according to state intestacy laws.

All of these steps can take quite some time.

How Long Does Probate Take?

In some states probate could take from one to three years, depending on state law, the complexity of the estate, and the filing of taxes. In others, it may take only a few months. Here is a summary of the timing for some state probate courts:

  • In California, a smooth probate can be concluded in about eight months. However, due to crowded probate courts, initial hearings can be delayed for six weeks after the petition is filed.
  • In Florida, an average probate takes six months.
  • In Texas, the will must be submitted for probate within four years following death, or else a more complicated procedure will be required. The executor must notify beneficiaries of the impending probate with 60 days, and file a statement with the court within 90 days that they have been notified. The inventory of claims and assets must be completed 90 days after the executor is appointed. Beneficiaries usually get their payouts in four to eight months.
  • Illinois requires that formal proof of the will be demanded within 42 days, but provides six months to contest the will.
  • In Massachusetts, an executor is usually appointed within 8 to 12 weeks.

How Long Do Creditors Have to File a Claim Against the Estate?

Creditors’ claims must be accepted or rejected within 30 days in Texas. New York has strict statutes of limitations requiring creditors to make their claims or forfeit the money owed. In California, creditors must submit their claims within four months, and in Illinois they have six months. In Massachusetts creditors have a full year to submit a claim.

Should I Consult a Lawyer for My Probate Concerns?

If you are a beneficiary under a will or intestate estate, or would like to contest the will of a loved one, a probate lawyer can help. Because timing is very important, and state probate laws vary, a lawyer will be able to help you through this process.