While wills do make the process of calculating an inheritance easier, there is more to the process than just this piece of paper. The probate process begins immediately after death. The court must approve the will, and then the estate must be inventoried and verified. Then, any debts are paid off before the distributions as detailed in the will can take place. Although the process is usually straightforward, there are situations that can hold up your inheritance, as the following guide explains.
Situation: Estate Tax
Large estates are required to file a federal tax return before any inheritances are paid out. This is only when the estate is valued at over 5.45 million dollars, so it isn't usually a concern for the average family unless there is a business or property as part of the estate. It can take several months for this form to be processed. Some states also charge an estate tax, which may hold up the processing of the inheritance. These vary by state. You can do little to speed up this process, so patience is necessary.
Situation: Multiple beneficiaries
The simplest estates usually leave everything to a spouse, so they can be processed quickly if there is no estate tax filing needed. Even estates with two or three beneficiaries can be processed quickly if the will details thoroughly how the inheritance is to be divided. The delay comes in when there are many beneficiaries or they are spread out across the country or world. This is because all beneficiaries must be contacted, apprised of the will, and give their acceptance of the will before any inheritances are issued. Working with a skilled probate attorney can help streamline and speed up the process when you have multiple or far-flung beneficiaries.
Situation: Poorly chosen representatives
Often, a family will try to save money by appointing one family member or a close friend as the personal representative. Unless this person has extensive knowledge of the probate process and the time to commit to filing paperwork and fulfilling the probate duties, the process is going to take longer. If time is of the essence, invest in the services of a dedicated probate attorney to guide everyone through the process.
Situation: Beneficiary bickering
If anyone contests the will, everyone's inheritances will be held up until an agreement is reached. Mediation can help with this process, either in person or via video conferencing. An attorney can refer you to a skilled mediator. If mediating fails, then a court date must be requested and then a judge will make the final ruling on how the estate will be divided. Resolving the dispute before going to court is the only way to speed up the distribution.
For more help or to avoid the above situations, consult with a probate attorney, like one from Legal Action Workshop.