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Inherited woes? 3 factors that can delay probate

Losing a loved one is a difficult experience, and dealing with their estate adds another layer of complexity. Probate, the legal process of distributing assets after someone’s death, can be smooth sailing or a frustrating journey filled with delays. While the exact probate process varies by state, understanding some common roadblocks can help you prepare and potentially avoid them.

Untangled web: Complex assets and debts

Probate aims to distribute assets fairly and according to the deceased’s wishes. However, this becomes trickier when the estate involves:

  • Multiple properties or complex financial holdings: Sorting through and valuing assets like real estate, investment accounts or intellectual property takes time and may require appraisals or legal knowledge.
  • Significant debts or outstanding loans: Creditors have claims on the estate, and probate ensures they are settled before beneficiaries receive anything. Untangling debts and determining their validity can add time to the process.

These challenges can make it difficult for heirs to understand what they will inherit and how these complexities could impact what they will receive.

Missing pieces: Incomplete or unclear will

A will is crucial for outlining how you want your assets distributed. However, issues with a will can lead to delays:

  • Intestacy: If there is no will, the state’s intestacy laws dictate distribution, which may not align with the deceased’s wishes and can lead to family disputes that slow probate down.
  • Will contests: If the will’s validity is challenged, court battles can erupt, putting the entire probate process on hold.

While there are laws that determine what happens when someone dies without a will, it can be frustrating for loved ones to decide how to proceed.

Family matters: Beneficiary disputes and executor hurdles

Unfortunately, probate can sometimes expose family rifts. Disagreements between beneficiaries about the distribution of assets or the executor’s handling of the estate can stall the process. Additionally:

  • Executor issues: If the named executor is incapacitated, unwilling to serve or there’s a dispute about their appointment, the court may need to intervene, causing delays.
  • Finding beneficiaries: If beneficiaries are challenging to locate, the probate process grinds to a halt until they are found.

While some delays are unavoidable, open communication with family members and consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can help streamline the probate process. An attorney can guide you through the legal complexities, anticipate potential issues and ensure your loved one’s wishes are respected.

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