If you’ve started diving into estate planning, chances are you’ve heard horror stories about how long probate takes. Unfortunately, many of these stories are true. Why is the probate process so time consuming? There are a number of factors that can serve to cause delays in the distribution of your estate.

Court Red Tape

Going to probate means you’re at the mercy of a judge. Even if you’ve left a will and can eliminate some of the time it would take the judge to sort through your estate, you’re still at the mercy of the court’s calendar for every step of the process. It’s not unheard of for probate to take years.

Inadequate Personal Representative

After you pass on, your estate is administered by someone you designate to be your personal representative. That means that he or she is partly responsible for how quickly things go. Ideally, you’ve chosen someone you trust, but even the most trustworthy people can be busy with their own work and family obligations. Being a personal representative is a lot of work. When the business of everyday life is compounded by a personal representative’s inattentiveness, disorganization, or a lack of skill with money matters, it can be a recipe for a very long probate process.

Multiple Beneficiaries

In most cases, the deceased leaves his or her estate to more than one person. In some instances, the list of beneficiaries can be quite long. Generally speaking, the more beneficiaries you have, the longer probate tends to take. It always takes longer to communicate and coordinate with more people, and in the event that signatures are required or other actions are needed on the part of the beneficiaries, who are likely scattered around the country or across the globe, waiting for all the necessary information can significantly delay the probate process. Even in the age of modern technology, probate is often logistically time-consuming.

Contests and Disputes

Probate is slow even for straightforward wills. When disputes and angry beneficiaries are added to the mix, probate can quickly become an extremely drawn-out process. Beneficiaries who refuse to cooperate with or speak to each other can necessitate the involvement of lawyers every step of the way. And if someone launches an official challenge to the will or contests any portion of it, the distribution of the estate can be caught up in years of court proceedings.


Estates are required by law to file tax returns at the state and/or federal level. Until the estate’s tax return has been accepted and the final estate tax bill has been fully paid, the estate’s personal representative can’t make any distribution of the estate’s assets. On the federal level, it’s not uncommon for the IRS to take up to a year to finally review and accept an estate tax return. If you have unusual assets that are more difficult to value, that can slow things down even more. All this can leave heirs waiting quite some time to receive their inheritances.

Delays are one of the biggest reasons why many people try to avoid probate altogether. The good news is that there are estate planning alternatives that allow you to bypass the probate process. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you determine what arrangements work best in your particular situation.

Contact a California Estate Planning Attorney Today

The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC is dedicated to helping individuals and families plan for their futures through all aspects of estate planning. Contact The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC to discuss your estate planning needs and any questions you might have about trusts, wills, or the probate process.

The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC