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How long does it take to handle an estate administration case?

Read below to find out how long it takes to go through Probate or administer an estate Feb. 20, 2024

I often get asked, “How long does it take to administer an estate?” 

Well, most people don’t ask the question like that, but they want to know how long it’s going to take to deal with the estate of someone who died. 

Most commonly, the people asking this are either beneficiaries of the estate or the “executor” (person in charge of the estate) of the estate. 

The process (called Probate or Estate Administration) really depends on the estate assets, whether or not there are creditors and how large the debt is, how the assets are held, what documents the deceased person left behind, who is the “executor” (or in charge of the estate), and who the beneficiaries are.

However, the time it takes depends mostly on the “executor” (administrator of the estate) and the Clerk of Court because they are the ones legally authorized and required to administer the estate through the Probate process. So, it depends on them and how fast they work. 

No matter how fast and diligent the executor works, the Clerk of Court has timelines they must follow. And unfortunately, as of this writing, many counties in North Carolina, particularly Wake County, are informing us that many steps of the Probate process will take weeks to months. 

REMEMBER, Probate is a legal proceeding with judicial outcomes. And usually the “wheels of justice” don’t turn too quickly. 

The short answer is Probate or Estate Administration will probably take a few months to a few years. If there’s not much to do and if the assets are minimal, then it will take much less time. However, if there’s a lot to do and if there are significant assets, then it will take much more time.  

Like estate planning, I know how long it takes Palmer Estate Planning to administer estates, but I do not know how long it will take the Clerk of Court, the Vital Records, the DMV, the banks, the tax departments, the Tax CPAs, the governmental tax departments, or the executor to do their parts, respectively. 

For an explanation, visit Probate and/or what to do when someone dies.

For this blogpost, I will discuss the two most common situations in which my clients find themselves. 

Most often, it is an adult child of a recently widowed widow(er). In other words, the surviving spouse recently lost their husband or wife of many years and they have a son or daughter who is trying to help them pick up the pieces. Or, the second most common situation is of the same people but after they have already been trying to pick up the pieces and they are stuck. They’ve hit a roadblock and don’t know how to proceed. 

The time it takes to get through either situation doesn’t really vary too much because they are usually going through the Probate process, unless there is a funded Trust. Having a funded Trust usually means they don’t need to go through Probate or need my assistance, and the process is relatively minimal and doesn’t take long. 

But, when someone goes through Probate, they are going through estate administration, and the process is usually a few months (small estate) or a year or two (large estate).

Whether they have not started or they don’t know how to proceed doesn’t really change how much more time may be required. 

If they haven’t started, we help them start off on the right foot and take a clear path towards completion. 

If they have started and hit a roadblock, we usually have to correct or change course in order to overcome the barriers they face. The correction or change of course usually takes the time they would have saved if they came to me before they started. 

Many common estate assets are real estate, vehicle titles, bank accounts, retirement, and financial investments.

Keep in mind that transferring assets can be straightforward. This means your children become the owners. However, liquidating or selling the assets takes longer. 

For example, real estate may be transferred pretty quickly if there is an original, valid Last Will and Testament. However, if the beneficiaries of the Will want to sell, they must go through another and separate legal process in order to be allowed to sell the real estate, or they can wait at least 2 years to avoid the legal process. Also, if a beneficiary of real estate is married, his or her spouse must agree to sell the real estate. So long as the in-law goes along, then it shouldn’t hold up the process. However, if the in-law doesn’t, then the process will take much longer. 

Financial accounts can usually be transferred without taking too much time so long as everyone has all the proper paperwork. But if the estate does not have cash because of “payable on death” designation, it may be required to sell real estate, through the lengthy process, in order to cover the costs of administration and pay debts. This is likely not a good outcome because when real estate goes through Probate, the court charges significantly higher estate administration fees, which is a percentage of all estate assets going through the Probate process

Other variables include whether or not the beneficiaries are a surviving spouse, minors (children under 18 yrs old), have special needs or disabilities, are self-sufficient or rely on the financial support of the deceased person, or are married, among many other considerations

I have helped many clients through the Probate process in a matter of hours. These were typically clients who I also helped plan and prepare their estate or got lucky with their unique situation. 

And I have also helped some clients through a multi-year Probate process. These were clients who had not hired me to help them prepare or who tragedy struck before I could help prepare their estates. Or they also had minors who were beneficiaries, because the husband died without ever having made a Will

Preparation does not matter after death has occurred. However, if you are learning about what it will be like, I strongly encourage you to seek professional information and assistance so that you can invest now in order to save time and money later.

Whether you are in the middle of Probate (Estate Administration) or you will be soon, if you have questions or need assistance, please feel free to contact us. We would be delighted to discuss your case or potential future case.