How Long Does it Take to Probate a Will?

By Anna Assad

Probate is the legal process a person must go through to settle the estate of a deceased person who died with a will. The average probate process can be anywhere from a few months to over a year; the time frame varies widely by state. The length of time to probate a will depends on a sum of factors, like state requirements, the heirs and the amount of assets involved.


Probate proceedings are used to validate a will, account for the deceased person's assets, settle estate disputes and give legal authority to the named executor. An executor is a person specified in the will by the deceased person to oversee the estate and carry out the final directions and wishes. If the executor is unable or unwilling to perform as such, the probate of the will may be delayed until the successor executor named in the will, if any, steps forward.


Once an executor is named, the matters of the estate can be handled, including the maintenance of assets and payment of bills. Delays in probate can cause the estate to lose assets, such as a house the deceased person owned being foreclosed on because the mortgage was not paid. The executor may be able to receive an order in court allowing him to perform limited actions to protect estate assets, but the court has the final say.

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Unexpected issues with the deceased person's legal heirs may delay probate by months or even years. If the proposed executor does not know where an heir is, he must make diligent attempts to find her and prove to the court he did so. The court may require the executor run public legal notices of the probate petition for weeks in different area newspapers. If the executor knows the location of all heirs and is able to obtain written consent to probate from each one, the proceedings typically move faster. A challenge from the heirs as to the validity of the will can drag out the proceedings. The heirs have the right to petition the court to contest the will's authenticity, the testator's mental state at the time of the will's execution, and other legal reasons. A trial may be initiated if the judge decides the claims have some possible merit.


An heir can still stall probate proceedings with a challenge if the will has a "no contest" clause; he forfeits his share of the estate if the will is found to be valid, but is not legally prevented from bring the motion forward. Errors or omissions in the probate petition may delay probate proceedings. A simple typographical error should not hinder proceedings, but an omission of an heir or gross underestimation of the estate's value may cause substantial delays.

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Can an Executor Probate a Will Without a Lawyer?


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What to Expect From the Executor of the Will After Someone Dies?

The executor or personal representative of a will is responsible for wrapping up the estate's affairs according to the will's instructions. After someone dies, the executor becomes responsible for the estate, and usually must report to the probate court. You can expect the executor to file the will with the court, manage the estate's assets, pay the estate's bills and distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries.

What If the Executor of the Will Cannot Be Trusted to Be Fair?

An executor is responsible for managing many aspects of a decedent's estate, including assets. You must act if you believe an executor is being unfair or behaving dishonestly. If you fail to take action against an executor performing in a dubious or unethical manner, the estate may suffer losses and you could lose part or all or your inheritance. State laws vary, but you can usually take action against an executor if you are an interested party to the estate, such as a beneficiary under the will.

Timeframe for Contesting a Will in Virginia

If you would like to contest a Virginia will, you must file your objections with the clerk of court where the will has been admitted to probate. State law sets out a statute of limitations for this procedure, which in some cases can be waived or extended. To comply with the law and carry out the process according to the rules of the court, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced estate or probate attorney.

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