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How to avoid a probate that drags on for years

Probate is a long process. It is necessary that the courts allow plenty of time to verify the identity of your heirs, the value of your property and the validity of your will. Your creditors must also have a chance to claim what you still owe at the time of your demise. All of this may take about nine months or longer, but this time frame depends on many factors.

Some things can greatly impede the probate process. In fact, you may have heard of some celebrity probates that drag on years after the celebrity's death, mainly because the artist left no estate plan. You are right that your preparations will go a long way toward protecting your heirs from a drawn-out probate, and you may want to know the complications that may arise even with an estate plan.

Issues with the estate

New Jersey is one of the few states that levies an estate tax and an inheritance tax. Additionally, if your estate qualifies for the federal estate tax, your heirs may be looking at an additional six months or more of waiting for the probate process to reach completion. This assumes there are no issues with the return your personal representative files with the IRS. If there are problems with the return, your heirs can count on waiting up to a year longer than a probate that does not involve the IRS.

Another complication that could slow down probate is having complex assets in your estate. For example, rare items, patents and oil or mineral rights are difficult to value and may prolong probate while your personal representative obtains valuations that are acceptable to the taxing authorities.

Issues with the people

Even if your assets are relatively simple, your heirs may create delays of their own. For example, if you name numerous beneficiaries, you require the court to seek them out, notify them of their inheritances and collect all their signatures before proceeding with asset distribution. Heirs who live far apart, especially in other states or countries, may bring the process to a halt. Additionally, if your heirs do not get along, there is a greater chance that disputes will arise, stalling the progression of probate even more.

Your personal representative can make an enormous difference in the efficiency of probate. While you may want to name your best friend or your oldest child, if these people have no organizational skills or have a lifestyle that doesn't afford them time to manage your estate, the results may be worse than simply a long probate. The wrong estate executor may create chaos and further legal issues by mishandling the assets. For this reason, many people find the assistance of an attorney makes probate a little easier.

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