How Long Does Probate Take?

How long does probate take? It depends

A woman wearing glasses reviews documents

Maskot Bildbyrå / Getty Images

Probate has a reputation for taking a long time, but the actual length of the process can depend on many factors. Some estates settle or close within a few months, or even a few weeks. Others can take a year or longer.

The process involves a lot of steps, all of them necessary to transfer ownership of assets from the deceased and on to a beneficiary (or beneficiaries). The decedent's taxes and outstanding debts must be paid before this transfer can happen, of course, and that takes time, too.

Key Takeaways

  • Geography, the number of beneficiaries, the nature of the assets, and other factors can contribute to the duration of probate.
  • In many parts of the country, smaller estates can avoid court-supervised probate with a much faster, simplified process.
  • Trusts can help you avoid probate, but that protection only extends to assets placed into a trust.
  • Some accounts and property can be transferred outside of probate if survivorship rights are attached.

All this occurs under the supervision of the court, and this can further slow things down. The process can stall entirely for days or weeks when complications arise. 

Learn more about factors that can slow a probate proceeding, and what you can do to move things along.

Where the Executor Lives

The executor, sometimes referred to as the personal representative, is in charge of managing the estate through the probate process. Sometimes, an attorney might be involved as well with a larger estate.

Where the personal representative lives in relation to where the attorney is located might not seem like a big deal with so many modern communications tools close at hand. But the distance between the personal representative and the attorney can indeed make a difference. A personal representative who is local to the attorney can drop by the attorney's office to take care of problems relatively quickly. But quick meetings just can't happen when the personal representative lives far from the office or in another state. 

The Number of Beneficiaries

Probate will take longer as the number of estate beneficiaries increases, particularly if they, too, live far from the attorney's office or far from the personal representative. This is simply a function of the time it takes to send multiple documents back and forth between numerous people who are located in many different places.

Whether the Beneficiaries Agree or Disagree

It's unlikely that any two beneficiaries will agree on everything that must happen with an estate, let alone three, four, or more of them. Some beneficiaries might even hire their own attorneys to monitor the probate process and these attorneys may nitpick over every action the executor takes. 


The more beneficiaries an estate has and the more they find fault with the process, the longer probate will take.

Whether the Will Is Contested

A will contest is a legal proceeding that's initiated to invalidate a last will and testament. Will contests are based on one of four arguments, or sometimes a combination of them:

  • The will was not signed with the proper legal formalities.
  • The will was written as it was because of issues of fraud.
  • The will was written under duress and undue influence by a beneficiary.
  • The deceased lacked the mental capacity to create a will. 

A probate proceeding will remain open for a very long time if a will contest occurs. These issues are typically resolved after lengthy court trials. 

The Number of Debts Owed

Payment of taxes and a decedent's debts are a major component of the process because transfers of assets to beneficiaries can only occur after all this has been accomplished. And payments to creditors can take some time, depending on state law.

Most states require that all known creditors must be sent notice, letting them know of the death and how long they have to make claims for any money owed to them. Some states also require that a notice for unknown creditors be published in a local newspaper, sometimes more than once, for a period of weeks. 

The deadline for filing creditor claims varies from state to state, from just 120 days in Texas, to as long as seven months in New York, and an entire year in Massachusetts. Closure of the estate will be delayed until this period has passed and all claims have been resolved.


All of these factors may not affect smaller estates, however, if state law includes provisions for summary or simplified proceedings for these types of estates. 

The Presence of a Will

A big snarl can occur if the deceased didn't leave a will. This doesn't mean that the estate doesn't have to be probated, but rather that the court will be more heavily involved in the process every step of the way. 

The judge will have to appoint someone to act as personal representative if the deceased didn't nominate anyone in a will. State law will determine which heirs will receive bequests from the estate and in what percentages. Even simple steps in the process will take longer than they would have if a will had been available. 

When Estate Taxes Are Owed

It takes longer to probate an estate that owes estate taxes because a taxable estate can't be closed until a closing letter is received from the Internal Revenue Service. A closing letter must be received from the state taxing authority as well, if state estate taxes are also due.

It can take anywhere from several months after filing an estate tax return before receiving any type of response from the IRS. As a practical matter, however, very few estates are subject to the federal estate tax. Only estates with values greater than $11,700,000 in 2021 and $12,060,000 in 2022 are subject to the tax. 

But 12 states and the District of Columbia also impose state-level estate taxes, and some of their thresholds are much less than the federal exemption. Reckoning and paying these taxes can delay the process if the deceased died owning property in any of them. 

Asset Complexity

Probate should be relatively simple if an estate is comprised of just a couple of assets, like a house and maybe a bank account. The exact rules and requirements can vary by state, but many states make simplified probate options available when an estate isn't complicated.

The court will allow the transfer of assets to living beneficiaries based on a small estate affidavit in these cases. This type of "probate" can take as little as a couple of weeks. The total value of the deceased's probate assets must usually fall below a certain dollar limit to qualify.

Full-blown administration can get complicated and drag out if the estate is comprised of a house, a bank account, and an interest in the family business. 

How To Bypass Probate

You can avoid probate of your estate entirely by moving your assets into a living trust. They would pass to living beneficiaries according to the terms stated in your trust formation documents, so a probate case never has to be opened with the court.


Any assets you don't include in the trust will still require probate. 

You don't necessarily have to go to all the trouble of creating a living trust, either. You might consider minimizing your estate by holding title to certain assets in such a way that they'll pass automatically to living beneficiaries at the time of your death.

Talk to an estate planning attorney about the possibility of creating payable-on-death accounts or holding real estate with someone else with rights of survivorship. Any of these options might minimize your estate so it can qualify as a small estate and pass to your beneficiaries by affidavit. 

Bottom Line: How Long Does Probate Take?

The probate process can take well under a year if the personal representative and the beneficiaries get along, if the assets aren't complicated, and if the estate isn't taxable. Otherwise, it can drag on for a year or more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much does an estate have to be worth for it to go to probate?

For an estate to go through probate, it has to meet a minimum value established by local authorities. For example, in California, most estates under $166,250 can avoid probate. This figure can vary, depending on the types of assets held in the estate.

How much does probate cost?

State and local authorities typically set the costs associated with the probate process, but you can expect to pay roughly 4% to 7% of the estate's value. Many individual costs and fees add up to total probate costs. These costs include filing fees with the court, executor's fees, and attorney's fees.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. State of Illinois Courts: Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions. “200.00 Will Contest,” Pages 2-6.

  2. The New York State Senate. “Section 1802 Effect of Failure to Present Claim.”

  3. “Title 2. Estates of Decedents; Durable Powers of Attorney.”

  4. The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Section 3-803: Limitations on Presentation of Claims.”

  5. IRS. “Frequently Asked Questions on Estate Taxes.”

  6. Internal Revenue Service. “Estate Tax.”

  7. Tax Foundation. “Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?

  8. California Courts. "Simplified Procedures to Transfer an Estate."

  9. Superior Court of California, County of Alameda. “Probate Court.”

  10. California Courts. "Wills, Estates, and Probate: Self Help."

  11. California Courts. "Wills, Estates, and Probate."

  12. Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. "About Probate—How To Probate a Decedent's Estate."

Related Articles