How Long Do You Have to File Probate After Death? What Families Need to Know

Court Document Probate of Will

When a loved one passes away, their story doesn’t end. You have to close out the details of their life, and that goes much further than holding a funeral. You have to figure out what happens to their assets.

Here’s the problem: that’s a complicated process. And if your loved one didn’t have a will (like half of all Americans), their assets will have to be settled through probate.

But between the funeral, the family, and navigating the loss of your loved one, it pays to ask—how long do you have to file probate after death? Here’s what you should know before you file.

The Basics of Filing Probate After Death and the Probate Process Timeline

The good news is that there are a lot of experts who can help you settle the final details of your loved one’s life. A good real estate attorney, for example, can help you navigate selling a house. But before you get that far, you have to reach a legal agreement about what will happen to your loved one’s assets. Ideally, your loved one already spelled out the plan in a legally recognized estate plan, such as a will.

However, if they didn’t have an estate plan when they died, probate picks up the slack.

The probate process is a legally supervised process of settling a deceased individual’s assets and debts. If your loved one had a valid last will and testament, probate will authenticate and execute it. But if they didn’t, probate will handle the process. It includes identifying and valuing your loved one’s assets, settling any remaining taxes or debts, and distributing the remainder to their survivors.

How Long Do You Have to File Probate After Death?

If you’ve done any research on probate, you’ve already discovered the consensus: it takes a while. How long depends on the estate.

Basically, the length of probate depends on how complicated the estate is. More complicated estates take longer to settle. This means probate can range from a few months to over a year.

Here’s the catch: most people think they have simple estates even though they don’t. If you have any debt, back taxes, a spouse (or former spouse), jointly owned property, or multiple children, your estate isn’t simple. This is why it’s critical to file probate quickly—the longer you spend in probate, the more money will be lost to legal fees.

So, how long do you have to file probate after death? It depends on the personal representative, a.k.a. the executor of the estate.

The representative has to gather all of the relevant information necessary to settle the estate. Each item can take weeks or even months.

When to File Probate and Probate Time Limits

Generally, most states require that the person who possesses the last will of the deceased must file it within 10 to 90 days of the person’s death or after you receive notice of the death. This kicks off probate.

If you don’t have a will, you’ll have to file to begin the probate process anyway. Your local court will have local guidelines, but it’s a good idea to work with an estate attorney. In this case, you’ll have to begin the formal process of becoming a probate petitioner.

The good news is that there isn’t a time limit per se as long as you’re handling matters promptly. However, if your loved one has outstanding debts, their creditors may sue if they are not paid promptly, so there’s nothing to be gained by waiting.

Still Figuring Out How to File Probate?

How long do you have to file probate after death? In simple terms, not very long. But with the right tools in your back pocket, you can navigate probate smoothly.

If you need more advice on probate, estates, and financial planning for a better life (and afterlife), make sure to check out our blog for more great tips.