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Why Does Probate Take So Long?

In California probate proceedings are governed by the Probate Code which sets forth certain time limits. Once a petition for probate is filed, you will receive a date for the first hearing in which an administrator or executor is appointed. The hearing is often 2-3 months after the petition has been filed. Once the representative has been appointed, notice has to be given to creditors of the decedent. Creditors have four months after publication of the notice of probate or 60 days after receiving actual notice, whichever is later to file a claim. Then the process begins of collecting and valuing all of the decedent’s asset, paying the debts, taxes, possibly liquidating some assets, and finally distributed the assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.

The normal time for probate in San Diego county is between 9 months and 18 months. There are a number of factors that may make the probate process take longer. Some of these are:

1. Many beneficiaries
2. Beneficiaries that cannot be found.
3. A will contest brought to dispute the validity of the will. If a contest is filed, it will have to be decided before the estate can be distributed. Sometimes this can take years if there are depositions that have to be taken and either mediation or a trial.
4. Disagreements among the beneficiaries such as who should be the administrator, whether the accounting is accurate, whether there are beneficiaries that should be disqualified, or having to set up a guardianship of the estate for minors. Each time a petition or motion is brought in the probate matter to resolve a disagreement, it lengthens the time for closing the estate.
5. A taxable estate. If the estate has to pay federal estate tax, this can delay closing the estate. This is not a problem for decedents who passed away in 2010, however in 2011, if the Legislature does not act, the federal estate tax threshold will revert to $1 million making many more estates subject to estate taxes.
6. A complicated estate with unusual assets. Typical estates consist of real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. If one of the assets is a business, however, it can take time to appraise such an asset. The same is true of oil or mineral rights or other unusual assets. If there are many assets, it can also take additional time to appraise all the assets and liquidate them if they need to be.

The estate planning attorneys at Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation handle many probate matters and can make the whole process easier for an executor or administrator. We offer free consultations so if you have a probate matter, give us a call.

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