[m-w] will

  • From: "Michael R. Martin" <drsewnsew@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <m-w@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 16 Jun 2009 08:58:18 -0500

How long does probate take and how much does it cost?

The time it takes to probate an estate depends on how complicated the estate 
is, including whether or not the deceased left things in order. If the deceased 
left piles of papers to be filed and a paper bag full of receipts, it may take 
time to sort out the initial things, like gathering assets, filing tax returns, 
and paying debts. Other situations can cause delays such as a complicated tax 
situation, many assets to be sold, debt disputes, lawsuits against the estate, 
or difficulty finding the people who will inherit the estate under a Will or 
under state law (Beneficiaries). A lawsuit involving a challenge to a Will may 
cause long delays. 

The time Probate will take also depends on the procedures your state requires. 
Every state has it’s own laws on Probate, with specified procedures and 
documents that must be filed. Many states have summary procedures for simple or 
small estates, and these summary procedures are usually quite a bit faster than 
the regular Probate procedures (and consequently less expensive). 

Considering all of these factors, probate can take anywhere from 3–6 months to 
several years. In California, for example, the average estate takes 7–9 months 
to get through Probate, if all goes well, but if there is something like a Will 
contest or some other lawsuit, all bets are off. Some matters have taken 
decades to resolve. 

The cost of probate may be set by state law or by practice and custom in your 
community, so it will differ from place to place. 

When all the costs are added up—and the costs may include appraisal costs, 
Personal Representative fees, court costs, costs for a type of insurance policy 
known as a Surety Bond, plus legal and accounting fees—probate can easily cost 
from 3–7% of the total estate value, and more. Some of these costs are set by 
law, and there’s nothing you can do about them, but you may be able to 
negotiate a lower fee for services like accounting, legal advice, real estate 
sales, and so on. California, for example, is one of a few states that set 
statutory attorney’s fees based on a percentage of the gross estate, even 
though the net estate (after paying mortgages, debts, and so on) may be 
considerably smaller and a fee based on a gross estate may be unfair. These 
fees are only the maximum fees that can be charged, however. Nothing would stop 
the Personal Representative (Administrator, Executor) of an estate in 
California from contracting with an attorney for services based on an hourly 
rate instead of the statutory fee. 

If there is a Will contest or other litigation involving an estate, there is no 
way to predict how much of the estate assets will be used up. Disputes have 
been known to consume all or most of an estate’s assets, which is why it’s in 
everyone’s interest to resolve difficulties as quickly and amicably as possible.

Michael R. Martin 

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