After the passing of a love one, you and your family likely have many questions to answer and decisions to make. If your loved one left a will or trust, some of the answers may be within those documents. In many cases, however, the estate cannot be entirely settled until it goes through the probate process.

Probate is the legal process of determining whether your loved one’s will is authentic. It also includes closing out your loved one’s estate by paying any final bills and taxes and distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs. Probate is often a long process, and if you wonder exactly how long, you are not alone. Each estate is different, and the time it takes to settle matters can vary depending on many circumstances.

Factors that slow down probate

Generally, a probate that has no complicating issues will last less than a year. However, any of a variety of situations can bring probate to a temporary halt while the matters are resolved, extending the time until you receive your inheritance and can move forward with life. The simpler your loved one’s estate plan, the fewer complications there may be. Some of the common delays include the following:

  • The designated executor or personal representative lives far from the estate attorney, requiring travel to gain original signatures on legal documents.
  • The estate qualifies for federal estate taxes, which can add eight months or longer to probate.
  • The estate has outstanding debts, including income taxes, which may take time to resolve with creditors.
  • Your loved one held complex assets, such as priceless art or rare collectibles that are difficult and time consuming to valuate.
  • Your loved one named many beneficiaries who must be located and verified.

These are only a few of the reasons why the probate process may face delays. Most commonly, probate stalls because of the beneficiaries. There may be arguments among heirs about how the personal representative is managing the assets during the process, or the heirs may disagree about the validity of the will.

If an heir decides to challenge the will, everything will stop while the matter is resolved through the proper California legal channels. Will contests require very specific challenges and are difficult to prove, so fortunately, they are not as common as you may think.