This is a question I get a lot in one form or another. The way it is phrased depends on why the person decided to contact a probate lawyer. Somebody has recently lost a loved one and needs to handle his or her affairs. That is simple enough. The “why” can be more complex. It determines the level of urgency I see.
Take an individual that wants to chart out a course. This person has called a probate attorney for assistance. The decedent had estate planning documents in place and it is time to use some of them. Or maybe it is an intestate situation. Either way, this is the scenario that seems most obvious. I usually see it when the decedent had assets of at least modest value. More on the line makes advanced preparation feel more important. The question is something like “what are the steps and how long does it take.”
Every now and then I talk to somebody who isn’t sure they need to work through the probate court at all. Usually, a close friend or family member died with little or no worth in assets. Perhaps they have creditors. Probate is something the person thinks they need but they aren’t sure why. “What is the result in the end and how much of my time?”
Some people want results yesterday. Usually, this is somebody who has found out that they cannot use an asset of the decedent without first transferring title out of his or her name. It might be an account, real estate, or something else. This also comes up when assets are found at a later point in time. The purpose of talking to a probate attorney is to get the asset in the name of the takers. This person wishes they could plow through probate administration as quickly as possible to get that done. The question might be “we want to sell my mother’s real estate and we have a buyer – how quickly can we sort out the title?”
These individuals have something in common. Whatever the reason they called a South Carolina probate lawyer and the level of urgency, they all face the same probate court rules if estate administration is the solution.
Assuming normal estate administration is needed, the process begins with introductory documents designed to appoint a personal representative, provide information about the estate, and notify interested parties. It takes time to prepare these documents and submit them to the probate court. The probate court must also turn them around and might ask for supporting documentation. The personal representative next publishes a notice to creditors that runs for three weeks. Creditors get eight months to come forward. The creditor period can be skipped if appointment of the personal representative was more than a year from the date of death. Either way, this takes us to somewhere between nine months and a year from the death.
If creditors come forward during the notice period or otherwise, the claims must be dealt with. Closing documents are prepared and submitted. Interested parties get the chance to ask for a hearing if they are unsatisfied with how the estate has been administered. It is also possible that tax filings can alter when the estate can be closed.
About a year after the passing is the shortest timeframe for administering the estate. Variables such as disputes, creditors, and taxes often extend the process. In some cases it stretches much longer. The best chance for the shortest estate administration is organization, efficiency, communication, and punctuality. Strategy and proper use of probate rules are also important.