Your relative has passed away, and you need to probate his estate. You are wondering: How long will probate take?
A probate case can take anywhere from a few weeks, to many years. The length of the case can depend on many factors, such as the complexity of the estate, and the willingness of heirs and creditors to settle issues peaceably. The estate of billionaire Howard Hughes did not settle until 2010 – over 34 years after Mr. Hughes died. However, most estates do not take that long to come to a conclusion.
This post will discuss certain waiting periods and deadlines that are required in probate cases. These waiting periods may affect the length of time it will take to settle your probate case. This post will also examine all probate cases that were filed in Washington County, Oklahoma, between January and March, 2017, and see how long it took for those cases to settle.
The Probate Process – Required Waiting Periods and Deadlines
For further information about the probate process, see my prior post: “What Happens in Probate Court in Oklahoma?”
After you file your petition, your judge will set a hearing date. Most judges have certain dates on which they hear probate cases. A judge may hear probate cases on only one or two days out of every month, so you may have to wait a few weeks until the judge’s next probate docket. You are required to give all of the known heirs notice of the hearing at least ten days prior to the hearing date. This means that, when you file your petition, the judge should give you a hearing date at least ten days after filing.
After the hearing, the judge will appoint an executor. Within two months of being appointed executor, the executor must file an inventory (that is, a listing of the property) of the estate. The court may extend the inventory deadline “for good cause shown.”
Also, within two months of being appointed executor, the executor must then send a “notice to creditors” to all known creditors of the decedent. If there are no known creditors, then the executor must publish the notice to creditors in a local newspaper.
Any creditor of the estate, must present a claim, within two months after the executor files the notice to creditors. If a creditor presents a claim, the executor then has thirty days to either agree that the claim is valid, or reject the claim. If the executor does nothing in this thirty-day time frame, the claim is deemed rejected.
If an executor rejects a claim (or if a claim is deemed rejected because the executor did nothing within thirty days) then the creditor has a deadline to file a suit on the claim. If the claim is due at the time it is rejected, then, the creditor must file suit within 45 days after the executor rejects the claim. If the claim is not due at the time of rejection, then, the creditor must file suit within sixty days after the executor rejects the claim.
After all debts of the estate have been paid, and the estate is ready to be closed, then, the executor may file a final accounting in court. This final accounting shows how creditors have been paid, and how the estate is to be distributed. The judge will then set a final hearing on his regular probate docket (and, again, because some judges only hear probate cases one or two times a month, you may have to wait a few weeks until the judge’s next probate docket.) You must give all heirs notice of this final hearing, at least ten days before the hearing. You must also publish notice of the final hearing, once each week for two consecutive weeks in a local newspaper.
At the final hearing, the judge will inquire as to whether all creditors’ claims have been paid, and if there are any other outstanding issues with the estate. If there are no outstanding issues, and all claims have been paid, the judge will then sign an “order distributing estate.” Once the judge signs this order, the probate case will be over, There may, however, be additional work to be done, because some heirs may still need to be paid.
Summary Probate – How to Make Probate Go Quicker
If the estate is worth less than $150,000, then, you may be able to file a “summary probate”. In a summary probate, the process is simplified, and the waiting periods are shorter. So, the case may go quicker.
In a summary probate, you will still have to give all of the heirs notice of the first hearing, at least ten days before the hearing. The judge will still set the hearing on his regular probate docket (meaning you may have to wait several weeks before the first hearing date.) But, after the first hearing, the time periods will go quicker.
If you’ve asked for a summary probate, and the judge approves your request, the judge will sign a “Combined Notice.” This combined notice will give notice to creditors, and will also notify all of the heirs of the final hearing date. The combined notice will inform creditors that they have thirty days to file a claim. The combined notice will also set a date for the final hearing. The final hearing must be at least thirty-five days after the judge signs the combined notice.
If a creditor presents a claim in a summary probate, the deadlines are the same as in a normal probate: the executor has thirty days to accept or reject the claim. If a creditor rejects a claim (or if a claim is deemed rejected because the executor did nothing within thirty days) then the creditor must file suit within 45 days after rejection (if the claim is due at the time of rejection) or within sixty days of rejection (if the claim is not due at the time of rejection).
In a summary probate, when an executor files a final accounting, the executor must file the final accounting five days before the final hearing. At the final hearing, if the judge approves the final accounting, the probate case is over. But, as with other types of probate cases, there may still be more work to be done, if some heirs still need to be paid.
How long do probate cases take in Washington County?
The Persaud Law Office examined all probate cases filed in Washington County between January 1, 2017, and March 31, 2017 (a total of thirty cases). Of these cases:
Twenty-three of the thirty probate cases filed in Washington County between January 1, 2017, and March 31, 2017 had been completed as of March 23, 2020. By “completed”, we mean that either the judge had concluded the final hearing, or that the case was dismissed.
Of the twenty-three completed probate cases, the average length of time for a probate case from the filing of the petition until the final hearing (or dismissal) was 334 days.
Four of the probate cases took less than 100 days to be completed.
Six of the probate cases took between 100 days and 200 days to be completed.
Three of the cases took between 200 days and one year to be completed.
Ten of the cases took between one year and 1,062 days to be completed.
Seven of the probate cases, which were filed between January 1, 2017, and March 31, 2017, have not been completed as of March 23, 2020.
Below, see a statistical breakdown of all probate cases filed in Washington County between January 1, 2017, and March 31, 2017: