When a loved one passes, the estate plans they made should help the beneficiaries receive their inheritance smoothly and without delay. But there are times when going through probate court takes a considerable amount of time. Here are some suggestions for helping keep things on track.
What Are Situations That Can Slow Down Probate?
Unfortunately, many things can cause probate to move more slowly than is desirable.
This is only a partial list, covering some of the most common reasons probate becomes delayed:
- Disputes. When the beneficiaries don’t agree if the will is valid, or if they dispute the actions being taken (or not taken) by the executor, resolving disputes can become a source of delay. In some cases, the legitimacy of the will is in dispute, meaning the person who drew up the will (the testator) is either thought to have not been of sound mind at the time they wrote the will or was under undue pressure from another party (for example, if a caregiver coerced the testator to change the will to favor the caregiver). In cases like that, the court must investigate whether the will is legitimate before it can be settled. That process could take many months.
- The estate’s complexity. An estate with many pieces and parts will take longer to settle, especially if debts or taxes are to be paid first or assets that must be evaluated and sold, such as real estate, jewelry, or artwork.
- Problems with documentation. If the will isn’t properly drawn up according to Georgia laws, or if documentation is missing or incorrect, the probate court will have to bring the process to a halt to rectify the problems.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Probate Delays?
Some key things can be done to prevent probate delays, and those are primarily focused on adequate preparation by the testator.
- Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. People sometimes think they can simply write up a will, which will hold up in court. But even a small, relatively simple estate can become entangled in the probate process if the testator doesn’t have a will that meets Georgia’s standards. Something as small as missing a needed signature could throw the will off track. A knowledgeable attorney will understand what pitfalls to watch out for and how to avoid them. They’ll also be able to advise the testator about other estate planning tools, such as trusts, that may allow much of the estate to bypass probate.
- Sometimes, people think that probate won’t be involved if they die without a will. That’s not the case. Dying without a will (known as dying intestate) nearly always causes the estate to go into probate, and it could take longer to settle than if a will existed.
- Choose your executor wisely. Settling the will is overseen by the executor chosen by the testator. It’s an important role that can make a huge difference in how the probate process plays out. The testator should choose someone they thoroughly trust, who’s highly detail-oriented, and who can manage significant amounts of paperwork and accounting. Then, the testator should go over the will in detail with the executor so they know what’s expected. The more thoroughly prepared the executor is, the less likely they’ll be at the root of delays.
- Set expectations with the beneficiaries. If the beneficiaries aren’t surprised by the will’s contents and who will be the executor, they may be less inclined to file disputes.
What Can Families Do to Help the Probate Process Along Once it Begins?
Once probate begins, some of the timing will be dictated by the probate court itself. That depends on how busy the court is or whether or not it’s fully staffed. There’s only so much families can do about that.
But there are other factors the family can affect:
- Keep communication open with the executor. Communication is best when it’s a two-way street. Both the executor and the beneficiaries should be in regular contact about the progress being made in settling the estate. If the executor needs anything from the beneficiaries, the sooner they respond, the quicker things can go.
- Consider mediation if disputes arise. Mediation is a conflict resolution technique that involves a third-party mediator who can help sides in a dispute negotiate through the disagreements. The mediator doesn’t force a solution but tries to guide the affected parties to come to agreement. This tends to be less stressful and much quicker than pursuing disputes through the courts. Going through the courts can involve more time and money, and it will be a public process as opposed to the privacy afforded by mediation. Some probate court require mediation for contested probate disputes.
- Petition the court. Suppose the executor appears not to be working on the estate promptly. In that case, the beneficiaries have the right to petition the probate court to either force the executor to take action or replace the executor.
What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Will or a Probate Case?
Call Lunn Law LLC as soon as possible at 770-762-4628 to set up an assessment. We can help you determine the best approach for your will or probate case with an eye toward helping it move forward smoothly and on a timely basis for the beneficiaries. Suppose you’re interested in planning your estate. In that case, our team of knowledgeable, experienced estate planning attorneys can help you understand the various estate planning tools and identify the ones that will best suit your estate, including but not limited to a will.