If you are putting off making your estate plan, you may be looking for just the right motivation. For many, avoiding the substantial federal estate taxes is a good reason to carefully plan their estate. Others have special circumstances, such as a loved one with disabilities or an estranged child they wish to disinherit.

Even if none of these situations relate to you, planning your estate can offer your loved ones a great gift by helping to limit the complications that often occur during the probate process. Probate is the legal procedure for validating your will, paying your creditors and closing your estate. If you fail to plan carefully, your loved ones may face months or even years of frustration and delay while the courts sort out your estate.

What causes probate delays?

Of course, the surest way to leave your family in a state of confusion after you pass is to provide no instructions for your wishes, such as in a will. If you know your family members have differing opinions, values or philosophies, you can be assured there will be arguments about how best to close your estate and distribute your assets. On the other hand, you may think you have everything covered in your will. However, the following situations can prolong probate and lead to disputes among your heirs:

  • The more beneficiaries you name, the longer probate will take, especially if your heirs live far apart. The executor will have to take time to locate each heir, keep them apprised of the progress and obtain their signatures on various documents.
  • If your heirs are contentious sorts, probate may experience long delays while the parties argue among themselves or create legal disputes out of every decision.
  • Your estate executor could contribute to the confusion if he or she is unable or uncommitted to handling the complex matters of your estate’s probate.
  • If your estate qualifies for federal estate taxes, your heirs can expect a delay of many months, perhaps up to a year, while the IRS deals with your return.
  • The types of assets within your estate can also complicate your probate. Items that are difficult to value, such as intellectual property or rare antiques, will require special handling and will likely involve the IRS, which is a notoriously slow-moving agency.

Knowing these common delays in the probate process may help you determine the best way to plan your estate. For example, the use of trusts may allow much of your estate to bypass probate altogether. Seeking advice from an Arizona attorney may be in your best interests.