How long does probate usually take in Australia?

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When a loved one passes away, it can be an incredibly difficult time for those left behind. Not only are you grieving their loss, but you now have to handle their estate and tie up all legal loose ends. 

For many Australians, this means going through the probate process. But probate can be complicated, and most folks don’t know what to expect in terms of timeframes. So, if you’ve suddenly been appointed executor, you’re probably wondering—how long is probate going to take? 

This article will walk you through a realistic timeline so you know what to anticipate. You’ll also look at the key steps in the probate process and what factors can delay things.

The Short Answer

If you just want the quick lowdown, here it is: 

For a standard simple estate, probate in Australia will probably take between 6 to 12 months. Of course, that’s a wide range. Some estates wrap up in 6 months flat, while complex estates can drag on over a year. But in most run-of-the-mill cases with minimal assets and no fights over the will, you can expect probate to take around 9-10 months from start to finish. 

Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of why the process takes this long.

The Probate Process In Australia 

After someone dies, their assets don’t automatically transfer to their beneficiaries. Those assets are still legally owned by the deceased person – even though they’re gone. 

Here’s where probate comes in. It’s the legal process for validating the person’s will and authorizing the executor to handle the estate. 

The probate process officially appoints the executor, identifies and values the estate assets, settles any outstanding debts, and ensures any taxes are paid. Only then can the remaining assets be distributed to beneficiaries. 

Here are the key steps: 

  1. Locate The Will And Apply For Probate

First things first—find the original will. Once located, the executor named in the will can apply for probate in the state or territory where the deceased lived. 

You’ll need to submit the original will, the death certificate, and probate application forms. Depending on the size of the estate, fees could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. 

It usually takes 2-6 weeks for the court to review the application and grant probate.

  1. Notify Asset Holders And Beneficiaries

Now, you can notify banks and financial institutions that hold assets for the deceased. Provide a copy of the probate order to access funds and transfer them into the estate account.

You should also notify all beneficiaries named in the will. Provide them with a copy of the will so they understand what they are entitled to.

  1. Identify And Value Assets

Make a comprehensive list of the estate assets—bank accounts, property, shares, vehicles, and more. Get professional valuations done for significant assets to establish their worth.

Also, determine if the deceased had any trusts or jointly held assets. Those might not form part of the estate for probate purposes.

  1. Pay Debts And Taxes

Settle any outstanding debts and taxes. These have priority and must be paid before distributing assets to beneficiaries. 

For taxes, file a final income tax return covering the period till death. Any income tax owed comes from the estate. Also, determine if any inheritance tax, estate tax or stamp duty is payable in the state.

  1. Distribute The Assets

Once debts and taxes are settled, the remaining assets can be distributed as per the will’s instructions. Make sure beneficiaries provide signed receipts acknowledging they’ve received their inheritance.

  1. File Final Accounts And Close The Estate

Prepare final estate accounts showing all assets, outgoings and distribution. File these with the court along with the probate order release form. This closes the estate and ends your duties as executor.

Why It Takes 6-12 Months 

Probate often takes between 6 to 12 months to complete due to several key factors. Locating beneficiaries spread across the country or world and collecting all their paperwork can be time-consuming. If the deceased owned high-value assets like property or businesses, professional valuations need to be done, which holds up the process. 

Settling large debts or complicated tax situations also takes significant time, sorting through paperwork and liquidating assets as needed. One of the biggest delays is often the courts themselves—large backlogs of probate applications mean it takes weeks or months just for the courts to appoint an executor and grant probate.

Here are more factors that can delay probate: 

  • Will Contests: This is when disgruntled family members dispute the will’s validity or contents. Resolving will contests via mediation or court can add months.
  • Overseas Assets: If the deceased owns property or assets overseas, extra time is needed to deal with foreign governments.
  • Business Interests: Unwinding complex business partnerships and assets like commercial property can be time-consuming.
  • Legal Action: If beneficiaries sue the estate or the executor, legal claims have to be resolved before distribution.
  • Missing Beneficiaries: Trying to locate beneficiaries who are missing, estranged or unknown adds delays.
  • Poor Record Keeping: When the deceased’s financial records are missing or in disarray, untangling things gets complicated.

As you can see, there are many potential issues that can slow down probate and extend the timeframe well beyond the average. However, an organised executor who acts swiftly and communicates clearly with all parties can help mitigate many of these delays.

To Sum It Up

For a quick rundown, probate in Australia often takes between 6-12 months for a standard estate. The process cannot be sped up until the courts grant probate and appoint you as executor. But once appointed, you can streamline things by acting quickly, delegating tasks, and avoiding disputes. 

While frustrating, following proper probate procedures ultimately protects the estate and inheritance. And in the end, that’s what your loved one would have wanted. 

So even though it tests your patience, remember—good things come to those who wait. If you stay organised and on top of things, probate will be finalized before you know it.