The probate process, which often includes a probate property sale, can seem, for good reason, like an intimidating and overwhelming process. It’s not simple, it’s not easy, and it takes a long time. But this lengthy, complicated process exists for a good reason. It is designed to keep the executor from making rash decisions driven by grief and to allow sufficient time to notify all creditors and beneficiaries and to complete all necessary financial transactions. So let’s see what Martinsburg and Hagerstown home sellers can expect during the probate process.
Length of the General Probate Process
From initiation to completion, the entire probate process can take from three months up to several years. But a longer time is more common than the short three months. Still, it all depends on the particular state’s probate laws, as well as the on the value of the estate.
The good news is that some states have now taken steps to simplify and streamline the probate process. For example, 16 “states have adopted the American Bar Association-approved Uniform Probate Code to simplify probate proceedings. Other states have devised their own means of streamlining the probate process, such as California where they’ve enacted the Independent Administration of Estates Act” (HomeLight).
Probate Process Timeline
To help you understand the process, here is an overview of the typical steps and how long each one generally takes:
1. NOTICE OF PROBATE
This first step, which usually takes one to two months, requires a formal notice of probate to be issued to all beneficiaries and heirs. Typically, you have up to three months after acceptance of the probate petition to notify all these interested parties. But it’s best to get it done before the first hearing at which the probate petition is accepted.
2. PETITION TO PROBATE
In most cases (except where the value of the estate is minimal), you will need a probate attorney to file a petition to probate the deceased person’s estate. After this petition has been filed, you’ll get a court date for your first hearing. Then, at the hearing, the probate judge will name you the personal representative of the decedent’s estate and determine whether to grant you rights of independent or dependent administration. This part of the probate process can take from one to four months, depending on how soon you can get a hearing date.
3. NOTICE TO CREDITORS
In this next step, which can take from four to six months, creditors are identified and outstanding debts and taxes are paid out of estate assets. Typically, it begins with the publication of formal notice to creditors in the local newspaper. If assets have to be sold in order to pay creditors, this step will take longer.
4. ASSET INVENTORY AND APPRAISAL
Often running concurrently with the above step, this is one of the major tasks of the probate process. The estate’ assets have to be thoroughly inventoried and appraised so that the court and executor can know exactly what the estate is worth. Depending on the size of the estate, this can take from a few weeks to several months.
5. SALE OF PROBATE PROPERTY
Many times an estate contains property, often real estate, that must be sold for the purpose of paying creditors and/or distributing the proceeds to beneficiaries. If you’ve been granted independent administration rights, the process is pretty straightforward, much like a traditional real estate sale and with little court oversight.
With dependent rights, however, the process gets more complex and longer. “While you will be able to list the home and even accept an offer, you cannot complete the sale on your own. The probate court will need to approve and oversee the sale with a court confirmation hearing.” And at this hearing, “the probate judge may open the overbid process, which proceeds similarly to an auction” (HomeLight). If this is the case, this step can take six months or more.
6. FINAL ACCOUNTING
Usually taking a month or two, this step involves the compiling of the pertinent transactional documents concerning the estate. The purpose is to allow the court to review all the documents and make sure everything is in order and has been done according to the state’s legally mandated procedures. The requisite documents will include accounting forms, inventories, and appraisals.
7. FINAL DISTRIBUTION AND ESTATE CLOSING
The last part of the probate process, which typically takes one to three months, involves the distribution of assets to beneficiaries named in the will and the formal closing of the estate. When all the documentation is in order and approved by the court, the judge will then rule for the probate to be closed and the estate dissolved – after, of course, court costs and attorney fees are paid out of the estate.
Making the Probate Process Easier for Martinsburg and Hagerstown Home Sellers
As you can see, then, the timeline for the probate process can be quite long, as well as complex and intimidating. But a qualified probate real estate agent can help make things much smoother.