Creating a successful estate plan often requires a consideration of a wide variety of goals and objectives. While the distribution of your estate assets when you die is likely your primary goal, other objectives may also be included in your plan, such as probate avoidance. To understand why you may wish to include probate avoidance in your estate plan it helps to understand how long it takes to probate an average estate.
Probate is the legal process that is required following a death. The primary purpose of probate is to ensure that the decedent’s assets are accounted for and eventually transferred to beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes. In the event of an intestate estate, probate is used to ensure that the estate assets are handled according to the state’s intestate succession laws. Most states, including New York, do offer simplified probate procedures for small estate; however, for estates that are required to go through formal probate the process can be long and costly.
The amount of time it takes to probate an estate will depend on many factors such as:
- The value of the estate
- The type and complexity of the assets held by the decedent
- How well the executor/personal representative handles the administration of the estate
- Whether or not a challenge to the estate is filed
Even a relatively uncomplicated estate will often take the better part of a year to probate. Larger estates and/or estates with complicated assets or litigation will frequently take years to probate. During the time an estate is being probated, the estate assets are tied up in court and often unavailable to the intended beneficiaries. Moreover, the longer it takes to probate an estate, as a general rule, the higher the costs. Everyone involved in the probate process, with the exception of the court itself, is entitled to a fee for his or her services throughout the process. In addition, managing estate assets during the probate process also involves costs. All of these expenses are paid out of estate assets, meaning that the longer it takes to probate an estate the fewer assets will go to the intended beneficiaries or heirs at the end of the probate process.
All of the reasons make probate avoidance a common estate planning goal. If you want to decrease the amount of time it will take to probate your estate talk to your estate planning attorney about incorporating probate avoidance strategies into your estate plan.
The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.