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Senior Resource GuideA Timeline of Probate in New York

Clients are often shocked to learn that it may take between 8 months and 2 years before a probate proceeding is completed from start to finish in New York State. Having a general knowledge of the factors that contribute to the timeline may be beneficial.

The first thing to note is that not all estates are equal.  Some are large and some are small.  Some involve many family members and some none.  Some include real property and others do not. Some are straightforward and uncontested.  Some are riddled with questions that require experts to sort out.  Some estates are contested and need to be litigated.  It is often an especially difficult experience to endure no matter which type of estate is involved because often those affected are also grappling with anger, grief, and difficult familial relationships.

These are the steps to probate with a range of timelines provided for each phase to better understand the process.  Maybe someone you know recently passed away, maybe you are reading this in support of a friend that is challenged by the process, or maybe you are a beneficiary wondering when you will receive your inheritance.  This article is meant to provide a timeline because knowing what to expect can go a long way to reduce anxiety.

The first step is to gather facts regarding next of kin, beneficiaries, and estate assets to draft the Petition for Probate and related papers.  This is a simple process if the deceased person kept great personal records or if the petitioner knew the recently deceased for a good length of time. However, this phase can take a considerable amount of time in the case where the deceased is estranged from their family, the petitioner is a creditor, or if the information is simply unavailable for any number of reasons. This phase can take 1-6 months.

Once the petition and related papers are filed with the Court, it is possible that everything will go smoothly and that the Court will issue a Decree and Certificates. This phase can take 1-4 months from filing.  Alternatively, someone may object to the person petitioning being named Executor of the estate, or to the validity of the will itself. Working through this can take months and even years.

Once an Executor is named by the Court, that person is tasked with gathering the assets of the estate, paying the deceased’s final expenses and debts, and then eventually distributing the funds to the intended beneficiaries. This phase cannot occur less than 7 months from the date the Decree and Certificates are issued by the Court, and depending on circumstances can take just a few months or several years.

The Executor may, during this time, must contact multiple financial institutions where the deceased held accounts, complete packets of paperwork, obtain notarized signatures or medallion stamps, evict tenants, sort through an entire home to divide personal property among the beneficiaries, empty the home in preparation of selling it, and eventually sell the real estate. These tasks take time, and most people are performing these tasks in addition to working full time and caring for other family members.

It is important for beneficiaries to have patience with the Executor(s) during this phase as it can be quite time-consuming and difficult.  IMPORTANT TIP TO REDUCE THE TIMELINE: It is important to choose an Executor who is adept at managing finances and is both efficient and organized.  It is also important to keep records easy to find so if you pass away someone will know where to look for estate assets.

If the Executor is not aware of all the estate assets, is disorganized or disinterested in the process, or finds it especially difficult to part with items of the estate, it can take a while before the beneficiaries receive their inheritance, possibly causing mistrust among them.

Of course, the beneficiaries must also be diligent in keeping up with paperwork received on behalf of the estate and review/sign/seek counsel regarding documents received in a timely manner to keep the process moving. It truly is a group effort that runs most efficiently when everyone works together and responds to one another in a reasonable timeframe.

Probate is time-consuming and varies in complexity due to the number and type of assets in the estate, availability of relevant information, consent of the parties, the competency of the executor and the willingness of the beneficiaries to be prompt in returning necessary paperwork.

Speak with a Trusts & Estates attorney to create an estate plan to reduce the time and burden the process will have on those that you leave behind.  Of course, there are ways to avoid probate entirely and we are available to discuss those strategies and others with you when you are ready.

This is not to be considered legal advice.  Please reach out to an attorney for information regarding your specific situation.

Cynthia J. Hand is an Associate concentrating in estate planning.
She can be reached by phone 845-764-9656 and by email.

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