The probate (inheritance) process can be confusing and intimidating, especially if you have never gone through it before. Unless you are an attorney or a financial planner, you will probably go through the probate process only once or twice in your life, and that limited experience definitely does not make you an expert.
That is why it is so important to work with a probate expert and get your questions answered. You probably will have a lot of questions as you work your way through the probate process, including how long you could have to wait to receive your inheritance. So how long can you expect to wait once the probate process is completed, and what can you expect during this time?
Many people simply assume that the funds from an inheritance will be available immediately. Some even make their financial decisions based on that assumption. The individual who learns about an inheritance may go out and buy a car or start shopping for a house, assuming that the money will soon be theirs.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Depending on the complexities of the probate process and the specifics of the case, it could take many months, or even up to a year, for the funds to be distributed. If you have been named in the will, it is important to understand this fact, and how the delay could impact your finances for the short term.
How Long Will the Process Take?
Everyone who is due an inheritance will have questions about the probate process and how long it will take. While there is no hard and fast guide, there are a few guidelines you can go by.
In a typical probate case, you should expect the process to take between six months and a year. You should make your plans accordingly, and not make any major financial decisions until you know the money is on its way.
This six-month to one-year time frame is just a guideline, of course. Every probate is different, and every estate has its own unique complexities. If the estate is a large one with many different investments, many heirs and serious tax consequences, the probate process could take much longer. If the estate is a relatively simple one, the whole thing could be completed well in advance of the expected six-month minimum.
Understanding the Process
There is a lot of mystery surrounding the probate process, but once you demystify it, things become a lot clearer. A good probate attorney will be able to walk you through the specifics of your case, but here is a general guideline of what you can expect.
There are a number of steps that must be completed before the funds from probate are distributed to the heirs. Those critical steps are outlined below.
Step #1 – Locate the Will
This one may seem self-explanatory, but finding the will is not always a simple matter. The heirs may not know where the will is located, or even who prepared it.
Finding the will could involve contacts with many different law firms, examination of bank records and safe deposit boxes and other time-consuming steps. Since the probate process cannot go forward until the will is found, this first step can create a number of delays.
Step #2 – Making Funeral Arrangements
The funeral provides closure for loved ones, but making funeral arrangements is also an important step in the probate process. It is important to know and respect the wishes of the deceased, and hopefully, these wishes will be laid out in the will.
Step #3 – Contacting the Lawyer
The third step is contacting the attorney who will be handling the case. Typically the executor or administrator of the estate will call the attorney they select. Once the attorney has been contacted, the executor or administrator will provide all the necessary documents, including:
- Bank statements
- Details of stock and mutual fund ownership
- Brokerage statements
- Outstanding bills
- Agreements to live in a retirement village or elder housing unit, if applicable
- Vital documents, including birth and death certificates
Once the attorney has been selected and the documents provided, it is time for the case to move forward.
Step #4 — Probate
Probate is step four of the process. In order for the case to move forward and the funds to be distributed, the executors will need the approval of the court to move forward with the administration of the estate. In order to obtain this court approval, known as probate, the executor must sign an affidavit, a form prepared by the attorneys.
This affidavit is then filed along with all the other applicable documents. It typically takes about a month to obtain probate, but the time frame can vary depending on the complexities of the case and the size of the estate. If the deceased did not have a will, an application will be made to have someone, typically a spouse or adult child, appointed administrator of the estate. In these cases, the court approval is known as a Letter of Administration.
Step #5 – Identifying the Assets
In step 5, the attorneys will write to all of the banks and brokerage firms where the deceased maintained his or her accounts. Once those institutions are notified of the death, the assets will be frozen.
Once the probate or letters of administration are obtained, the attorneys will gather the proceeds of all assets. They will arrange to pay the funeral expenses and other expenses associated with the estate. They will also deal with any necessary real estate transfers.
The executors will handle the transfer of things like jewelry to those who were named in the will. If any disputes arise surrounding ownership of the assets, the executor will be called on to resolve these issues.
Step #6 – Six Month Waiting Period
Now the waiting begins. By law, the executor is required to hold onto any real estate for a period of six months following the granting of the probate or letters of administration. The executor cannot pay anything out to the beneficiaries before this six month waiting period is over.
This six month waiting period is required to allow for any claims that may be made against the estate, including claims by long-lost children, previously unknown relatives or unidentified creditors. The executor of the estate is personally liable for any claims made on the estate during this six month waiting period. If the beneficiaries of the estate insist on an earlier payout, they must sign an indemnity. This signed indemnity will protect the executor in the event claims come in after the funds have been distributed.
Step #7 – Paying Out Gifts and Distributing the Assets
After the six month waiting period is over, the specific gifts named in the will can be distributed to the named beneficiaries. This is the final step of the process, the step in which the assets are paid out to the individuals named in the will.
Once you understand how the probate process works and the steps needed to make it happen, it will be easier to make your plans. You should not expect an immediate payout, and you should not make any major financial decisions until the money from the inheritance is actually in your hands.
Do You Need Help with Probate Matters?
As you can see, the probate process in Arizona is complex. It requires a number of steps and without the right approach, it’s easy to get lost in the details. At JacksonWhite, we can make probate a clear, easy-to-understand process. If you’d like help with probate matters, call the talented team at JacksonWhite Law today.