Probate settles the final debts of a deceased individual and distributes the remainder of his estate to his beneficiaries or heirs. The probate process starts in the county in which the deceased individual -- the decedent -- lived at the time of death. According to Inheritance Funding, the complete estate settlement process takes an average of 15 months from the date of the decedent's death, but the entire process can take two years or longer.
If the individual has a will, the executor listed on the will wraps up the decedent's gifts to his beneficiaries and settle the decedent's debts. If the decedent has no will, a court will appoint an administrator who operates on behalf of the estate with the same function as an executor. The administrator or executor will submit a copy of the decedent's death certificate to the court and will file a Petition for Probate of Will and Appointment of Executor. The probate process for wills takes less time than probate without a will, as an administrator will need to determine payouts and who should receive the decedent's funds.
After an executor submits a petition to the court, the court will hear his case and legally appoint him as manager of the estate with the sole responsibility of settling the decedent's will and accounts. Alternatively, the court will appoint an administrator within five months of the decedent's death. According to New York Life, most states require public notice of probate in a local newspaper for a set time frame established by state law, so potential beneficiaries and debtors are aware of the name of the executor and the filing of the will.
After receiving permission to administer an estate, an executor or administrator will begin cataloguing and appraising all of the decedent's assets. Within six to 12 months of the decedent's death, the executor will then settle all estimated federal, state and local taxes and estate expenses, including funeral costs and administration, and he will pay off all creditors to which the deceased owed money, according to Inheritance Funding.
After satisfying all of the decedent's obligations and expenses, the executor or administration will submit a filing with a court for the final distribution and accounting of the money and property remaining in the decedent's estate. A court will conduct a hearing and approve the distribution of the funds and property from the estate to beneficiaries. According to Inheritance Funding, the executor will finish distributing funds to beneficiaries and close out the estate between seven to 24 months after the decedent's death, depending upon the complexity of the estate and state waiting periods.