What Is the Probate Timeline?
I am constantly being asked, “Why does probate take so long?” And “How long does probate take?” There is no quick answer to either question because each situation is different. Typically, a probate “should” take less than a year. The probate timeline is as follows.
Month 1: File and prepare a petition for probate, serve the interested parties, provide the court with a proposed order, publish notice of the proceedings.
Month 2: Obtain the court order for probate as well as letters, send out a notice to creditors as well as required notices to various governmental entities.
Month 3: Inventory and appraise the estate property. Once the property is appraised and inventoried, then the personal representative [aka the executor aka the administrator] is in a position to sell the property. Once the property is sold and the proceeds are placed in a separate bank account for the estate, the estate can be closed if all the creditors have been paid.
Months 6-8: If the property is sold relatively quickly, then the personal representative files his or her report and accounting promptly, then in approximately 6 months one “should” be able to obtain the closing order and distribute the property either in kind or by way of cash in the 7th or 8th month.
So Why Would Probate Take Longer Than 6-8 Months?
Because at any step in the process, there can be serious problems that are not related to the probate process at all that delay it. For example, I have one probate that has been pending since 2007. Why? Well, the real estate market collapsed in 2007 and the personal representative refuses to sell the decedent’s residence until the market comes back. As of this writing, it hasn’t. The collapse in the real estate market is only one of the reasons, outside of the probate process, that can seriously delay closing an estate. In another case, the decedent owed a lot in back taxes. It took years to unravel what was owed, but the estate could not be closed without paying the back taxes. These kinds of delays cause very serious problems to all interested parties and with the passage of time, it becomes more difficult to close the estate. What I tell my clients is that “old cases collect problems.”
What About a Probate Time Limit?
But if “old cases collect problems” isn’t there a probate time limit? The answer is no. As a practical matter, in some of the smaller counties in California, the local probate judge may take a “hands on” approach to his or her cases and closely monitor the cases to ensure that they move forward. But, in the larger counties, this kind of “hands on” approach is impossible. The court has to manage a daily calendar of up to 40 cases per day on top of a heavy trial calendar for matters that require more than a 20 minute hearing. It is logistically impossible for the Court to monitor the caseload to ensure that matters move forward.
How Can A Probate Move Faster?
So how can an interested party ensure that an estate does move forward to closure? What can you do if the personal representative does nothing? The only way that you can ensure that a languishing probate moves forward is to petition the probate court for orders to compel the personal representative to close the estate. If he or she will not close the estate, then ultimately you would have to petition to have the personal representative removed.
The Law Offices of David Baker has over 30 years of experience in probate and we work in the following Bay Area locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, Crockett, Martinez, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Vallejo and Richmond. Call us or contact us today to discuss your situation (510) 724-2020