One of the most common questions asked when it comes to settling an estate in Santa Barbara County is, “How long is this going to take?” The answer to that question is, of course, going to vary depending upon several factors. In some situations, Santa Barbara County probate may just take several weeks or a few months; in others, it could take well over a year. Due to the probate court’s involvement, some of the time issues may be beyond your control. Keep in mind that any complications that may arise can cause further delays.
In today’s world, families are often spread out all over the country or, in some cases, across the globe. Where an executor of an estate lives can affect how long it takes to move through the probate process. Even though we live in a time where scanners and faxes and emails exist, some documents require an original signature. If the executor or personal representative lives more than a driving distance from where the probate estate is being handled, the process can take a bit more time.
The more people involved, the longer things are going to take. Documents have to be sent to all parties for signatures and then returned back to the attorney or the court. If the beneficiaries all live in different states or areas, obviously the time it’ll take to get those documents sent back and forth is going to be longer.
The involvement of multiple beneficiaries can also increase the likelihood of conflict, which will also increase the amount of time it will take to settle the estate. Depending on the severity of the conflict, multiple attorneys may end up getting involved, leading to an even longer timeframe.
If the deceased did not leave a will, expect a longer wait. The court is going to be more involved in an estate that is not subject to a will. An executor will be appointed by a judge, and the law will determine how the estate is distributed to the heirs. In situations where much of the process is left to the court to handle because there is no will, estate settlement will take much longer.
Even when the deceased has left behind a will, an estate settlement can be delayed if one of the beneficiaries decides to contest the will. If there is any reason to believe that the will was signed under duress, that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to create the will, that the will was not properly signed, or that there was any fraud involved, the validity of the will can be called into question. Naturally, this will delay the probate process.
Before any part of the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries, there needs to be a determination as to whether or not the estate is taxable. If an estate is taxable, it cannot be closed until a letter is received from the Internal Revenue Service which may take several months. State taxes can also slow things down a bit, especially if the deceased owned property in more than one state.
Obviously, a person who owns multiple properties, has several investments, and owns a business is going to have a more complicated and lengthy probate process than someone who owned very few assets and had no investments. In some states, settling the estate of an individual whose assets are valued below a specific amount is as simple as just transferring those assets to surviving beneficiaries. This could happen within a couple of months or even weeks.
Working with a Santa Barbara County probate attorney can make probate completely unnecessary. Your attorney can work with you to make sure that your assets go into a living trust so that they’ll automatically be passed to your surviving beneficiaries. They can also advise you on how to set up your assets, including real estate, in ways that will allow them to easily be transferred to your spouse or children.
There’s no easy way to say how long Santa Barbara County probate should take, but one year is a good rule of thumb. An estate that includes a clear will and beneficiaries who can get along may take less than a year whereas one that involves taxes, challenges, multiple attorneys, or other complications can drag on much longer.
If you have questions about an estate that must currently go through probate, or if you’d like to set up a plan to ensure that your heirs can avoid probate in Santa Barbara County when you are gone, simply contact our Santa Barbara probate and estate law firm at (805) 946-1550 to schedule a consultation.