Closing an estate and distributing the inheritance to heirs helps a family achieve closure, which is why many people attempt to reduce time in probate. Still, unforeseen events sometimes push probate into additional weeks, months or possibly beyond a year.
It is possible to anticipate certain situations before they delay the distribution of an estate. Here is a look at three common issues that prolong probate.
Missing documents or information
Any instance where an executor lacks the financial records of the decedent may slow down probate. An executor might have to contact financial institutions, government agencies or family members to locate assets and debts. The probate court could delay approving any distributions until the court believes the executor has carried out a diligent search.
Retrieving a will and other estate documents from a safe deposit box can also require more court time. According to U.S. News and World Report, executors generally need court authority to open a safe deposit box. However, an executor needs an original copy of the will for a judge to grant authority, so this could create a legal quandary.
Tax problems and complications
Income taxes can complicate probate in some cases. If the decedent owed taxes, the executor must file returns and pay the amounts due. If the estate earns interest or dividends while in probate, the executor may need to file additional income tax returns. Any disputes with tax authorities will also delay the completion of probate.
Additionally, the state of Washington is one of 17 states with an estate tax. An estate with a value above $2.2 million will incur a rate of 10% to 20%. This is something executors must deal with if the estate is wealthy.
Probate also presents opportunities for litigation. Beneficiaries can object to how the executor values the estate assets or makes business decisions. Lawsuits against the estate by creditors or other claimants are also possible. Even minor legal issues such as correcting errors in documents can consume more time.
Spending extra time in probate can be necessary to account for any complications. However, proper estate planning should help a family avoid unneeded and persistent delays.