When to Probate a Will?

by A.L. Kennedy
Begin probating a will as soon as possible after death.

Begin probating a will as soon as possible after death.

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A will should be probated as soon as possible after the death of the person who made the will. However, most states allow a certain number of years after the death to probate the will. Since probate takes time, it is wise to start early so the beneficiaries do not wait too long for money they may need.

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When to File

The probate process begins when you file the will with the probate court. Usually, a will should be filed with the probate court in the county where the testator, or person who made the will, last lived or where he died. Along with the will, the probate court will ask you to file a petition to formally begin probate. If you are the executor, you can save time by also filing a formal request for the probate court to recognize you as the executor and give you the power to handle the estate's affairs.

Benefits to Filing Early

Opening the probate estate as soon as possible after the death of the testator has several benefits. First, probate can take several months, though if the estate is particularly complicated, it can take up to two years. The sooner you begin probate, the sooner the testator's beneficiaries may receive their shares of the estate, which they may need to pay living expenses. Filing early also requires the estate's creditors to be on their toes, since they usually only have a few weeks from the time they are notified of probate to the time they are barred from submitting bills to the estate.

Deadlines for Filing

Most state probate courts set a deadline for probating a will after which the will cannot be probated. The deadlines vary by state, but generally last up to five years. If probate has not begun on the will within five years, the court will reject the will and require the estate to be split up as if the person who made the will had died intestate, or without any will at all. The rules for an intestate estate may not match what the testator wanted for his beneficiaries or the beneficiaries' own needs.

When to End Probate

Like beginning probate, it makes sense to end probate as soon as possible once it has begun. Often, the executor is required by state law to wait a certain number of weeks or months to ensure that all creditors have sent in their bills and that no one wishes to file a will contest. Once these deadlines have passed, however, handling the estate's affairs efficiently allows the beneficiaries to receive their portions and move on without an undue wait.