A reader recently reached out after his elderly mother died, asking how soon he could distribute the $10,000 she had earmarked in her will for each of her two grandchildren.
Because she lived in California, I had to break the bad news: He won’t be able to hand over the money any time soon.
Probate is the court process to distribute someone’s estate after their death, even if there is a will, and is notoriously slow in California. A typical probate takes nine to 12 months, and court shutdowns related to COVID-19 mean the wait could be longer. Probate is also expensive in California: By law, an attorney could charge $11,000 in fees to handle the woman’s $400,000 estate.
Probate tends to be less onerous in most other states, but the process still costs money and delays when beneficiaries can receive their inheritance.
Avoiding probate, however, also requires time or money and sometimes both. If you’re trying to decide whether to make the investment to spare your heirs the expense and hassle of probate, here’s what to keep in mind: