Receiving an inheritance from a loved one comes with the challenge of loss. Amid the mourning and personal difficulties you may be going through, the legal and financial complexities may aggravate the situation. A little clarity can go a long way in getting the peace of mind you need.
How long does it normally take to receive your inheritance? It varies greatly between situations. A major contributing factor is the legal form that your inheritance takes. Depending on how the deceased planned their estate, it may:
- Pass through a will
- Pass through rules pre-determined by the state if there is no will
- Pass through the rules governing the particular asset or account itself
If there is a will
A will is a legal document created by the deceased before death. It includes their intentions for how they wish their assets to be distributed after death. For a will to be valid, it needs to meet the legal requirements as set by the state governing it and will go through a process (probate). This probate is intended to determine the will’s authenticity, requirements, and instructions for the distribution of assets.
During this time the assets will generally not be accessible or usable. Exceptions are made in certain case by the immediate possessory. The possessor is the person(s) with the right to immediate use and occupancy of the property. For example, the deceased’s house may continue to be occupied by the family that was living there at the time of death.
If there is no will
If the deceased did not have a will then the deceased’s assets will go through the intestate probate process. This probate process means the court will rely on the state’s default rules to distribute the assets. It will use a methodical public process to determine all potential family members. Doing so, they will distribute the assets.
Probate usually takes at least six to nine months to settle. If there are significant challenges or uncertainties, then the probate process could take significantly longer due to litigation and investigation.
You will notice that the time frame for will vs. no will is more or less the same. This is because in both situations the court needs to first catalog all of the assets in the deceased’s estate. It will also allow time for challenges, before distribution.
One way of avoiding the probate process and reducing both time and potential legal challenges is through property rules governing the asset itself. Often property can be written so that it will pass automatically to a chosen beneficiary upon death. This can happen with a bank account or life insurance. These methods normally mean that the inheritance will be distributed instantly upon providing proof of death to the entity controlling the asset.
Jointly held property
Certain jointly held property can be designed so that the joint owner’s interest will pass to the other joint owner upon death, rather than passing on to another heir.
Trusts are a common estate planning tool. A trust is an independent legal entity with designated beneficiaries. Trusts usually derive the income they pay out from a core asset base from the deceased’s estate. The trust’s asset base is then managed by a trustee. This trustee is either appointed by the deceased or by the court.
Benefits of creating specific rules to govern a particular piece of property include the significant savings in time and legal complexity when distributing one’s assets after death. Disadvantages include that these property rules are often difficult to change and they can be complicated and expensive to set up.
The form of your inheritance will dictate how long or complicated the process is. The process might also extend significantly if there are legal challenges by others who claim the asset or if the deceased’s documents are ambiguous.
Be sure to seek legal counsel and financial planning advice to help you understand how to navigate the estate planning process both before and after death so as to minimize the associated delays and complications.