Estate Planning 101

How Long Does Probate Take in Arkansas?

In this article, we'll cover the topics that impact the length of probate in Arkansas, including complexity and value of the estate, guardianship, trusts, not having a Will, and claims from creditors or family members.
October 6, 2023

Are you an executor or trustee?

Snug can help you get organized by providing one place to store and analyze Wills, Trusts, and other essential documents. You can inventory finances, personal property, digital assets, insurance, and more.
Get started for free

Want to get organized?

Snug can help you organize all of life's details by providing one place to store and analyze Wills, Trusts, and other essential documents. You can inventory finances, personal property, digital assets, insurance, and more.
Get started for free

Want to offer estate planning?

Snug is a complete estate planning solution built for Financial Advisors who want to save time and offer their clients more. Whether you have an UHNW client who needs their documents analyzed or a mass affluent client getting their first Trust, we can help.
Get started for free

Need a Will or Trust?

Snug makes it easy to create a Will or Trust in under 20 minutes. Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives are included for free with any Will or Trust, as is a year of free updates.
Get started for free

Probate is a critical aspect of estate planning, and understanding the process is necessary for anyone involved in managing an estate. A frequent question that arises when discussing probate is, "How long does probate take?" Specifically, in Arkansas, the probate process can last anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on several factors. In this blog post, we will delve into these factors in detail and provide a comprehensive overview of the duration of the probate process in Arkansas.

The more complex and valuable the estate, the longer things are likely to take:

In Arkansas, as in many other states, the complexity and value of an estate significantly influence the probate process's length. The more varied and valuable an estate, the more time-consuming it is to identify, appraise, manage, and distribute the assets, deal with potential tax obligations, and resolve potential disputes among beneficiaries.

If the deceased owned property in multiple states, each property might need to be probated separately in its respective jurisdiction. Moreover, certain types of property, such as businesses, can add to the complexity. If the deceased owned a business, additional steps might be necessary to value the business, transfer ownership, or even sell it. These steps can require specialized legal and financial expertise and may be time-consuming.

Arkansas law also recognizes non-probate assets, which are assets that pass directly to named beneficiaries without going through probate. These include life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and properties held in joint tenancy. While these assets can expedite the process, identifying, locating, and managing them can still take time.

If an estate is valued over a certain threshold, it will likely need to undergo formal probate which is generally more complex and lengthy than informal probate, which is available for smaller estates.

If the deceased died “intestate” (that means they didn’t have a will), probate usually takes a lot longer:

When someone dies without a valid will, they are said to have died "intestate". In such cases, their estate is distributed according to Arkansas's intestacy laws, which can significantly lengthen the probate process.

Without a will to provide clear instructions, the court must appoint an administrator, which can be a lengthy process if there are multiple interested parties or disagreements. Additionally, the administrator's responsibilities are often more complex in an intestate estate, potentially extending the duration of probate.

Moreover, without a will to dictate the distribution of the estate, potential disputes among heirs can arise, potentially leading to legal disputes and court intervention, which can dramatically extend the probate process.

If trusts are involved, the process is usually slower:

While trusts are often used as a tool to bypass the probate process, they can, paradoxically, slow down the process when they are part of an estate undergoing probate. This is largely due to the complexities involved in managing and distributing the assets held in the trust.

A trust is a legal arrangement where one person (the settlor) transfers assets to a trust, which is managed by another person (the trustee) for the benefit of a third person (the beneficiary). When the trustor passes away, the assets in the trust do not need to go through probate because they technically belong to the trust, not the deceased. However, this doesn't mean they're free from complications.

One of the main reasons why trusts can slow down the probate process is because they often require careful administration. The trustee must manage and distribute the trust's assets in accordance with the trustor's wishes, as outlined in the trust agreement. This can be a time-consuming and complex task, particularly if the trust contains a variety of assets or if the distribution instructions are intricate.

Furthermore, if the trust was not set up correctly or if there are questions about its validity, disputes can arise. These disputes can take a considerable amount of time to resolve, particularly if they end up in court. In extreme cases, the entire trust may even need to be probated, which can significantly extend the timeline.

Another factor that can complicate the probate process is the presence of multiple trusts. If the deceased had a number of different trusts, each one will need to be administered separately. This can be a lengthy and complex process, particularly if the trusts have different trustees, beneficiaries, or distribution instructions.

In Arkansas, as in other states, trusts can also impact the probate process due to tax issues. Trusts are subject to different tax rules than estates, and navigating these rules can be complex and time-consuming. Depending on the size and nature of the trust, it may be necessary to hire a tax professional to ensure everything is handled correctly.

Matters of guardianship will also slow down the probate process:

When a deceased individual leaves behind minor children, the probate process often becomes more complicated and lengthy. This is primarily due to the need to establish guardianship for these minors, a process that requires court intervention and can significantly extend the timeline of probate.

In Arkansas, if a parent passes away and the other parent is already deceased or deemed unfit, a guardian needs to be appointed for any minor children. If the deceased left a will, they likely named a guardian for their children. However, the court still has the final say in this matter. Even if a guardian is named in the will, the court must approve the choice, ensuring it is in the best interest of the children. This review process can take time and may extend the probate duration.

If no guardian has been named in a will, or if the deceased died intestate, the responsibility falls on the court to select a suitable guardian. This can lead to potential disputes if multiple family members or friends wish to be appointed as the guardian. Such disputes can prolong the probate process as the court takes time to review each potential guardian's suitability.

Moreover, the appointed guardian may need to establish a guardianship estate if the minor inherits assets. The guardian is then responsible for managing these assets on behalf of the minor until they reach the age of majority. This process requires court oversight and involves additional court proceedings, paperwork, and potentially, legal fees, which can add to the overall length of the probate process.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that the court will likely require the guardian to post a bond. This is a type of insurance policy that protects the minor's inheritance in case the guardian mismanages or misappropriates the funds. Securing a bond can take time and may add another layer of complexity to the probate process.

Claims on the estate — either from creditors or other family members — can make things take a lot longer:

When an individual passes away, their estate often becomes the target of numerous claims. These are primarily from creditors who were owed money by the deceased, and potential heirs who may have a stake in the inheritance. Both types of claims can have a significant impact on the probate timeline, often extending it considerably.

In Arkansas, there are legal protocols in place to deal with claims from creditors. The personal representative of the estate must notify all known creditors of the decedent's death, giving them an opportunity to file their claims against the estate. This process can take several months as every claim must be validated and settled by the personal representative. If the estate doesn't have sufficient funds to cover all debts, the personal representative must follow Arkansas's order of priority to determine which debts to pay. This can be a complex and time-consuming process, particularly if the estate is insolvent or if there are disputes over the validity of certain claims.

Claims from family members or potential heirs can also create delays in the probate process. Disputes may arise over the validity of the will, the distribution of the estate, or the appointment of the personal representative. Resolving these disputes can take a considerable amount of time, particularly if they result in litigation. Even out-of-court settlements can add several months to the probate timeline.

The probate process — and how long each stage takes:

The probate process in Arkansas consists of several stages, each with its own timeline. Here's a general overview of what you can expect:

  1. Opening the Estate: The probate process begins with filing a petition to open the estate with the probate court. Typically, this happens within a few weeks to a month after the person's death. The court then appoints a personal representative, who is responsible for managing the probate process.
  2. Notification of Heirs and Creditors: The personal representative must then notify potential heirs and known creditors of the individual's death. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the number of heirs and creditors involved.
  3. Inventory and Appraisal: The personal representative must inventory the deceased's assets and have them appraised to determine their value. This can be a time-consuming process, particularly for larger or more complex estates, and may take several months.
  4. Payment of Debts and Taxes: The personal representative uses the estate's funds to pay off any outstanding debts and taxes. This can be a lengthy process, as creditors typically have up to six months to file claims against the estate in Arkansas. Paying taxes may also take several months, particularly if estate or income taxes are due.
  5. Distribution of the Remaining Assets: After all debts and taxes have been paid, the personal representative can distribute the remaining assets to the heirs as specified in the will or according to Arkansas law if there is no will. This can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the number of heirs and the types of assets involved.
  6. Closing the Estate: Finally, the personal representative must provide the court with a final accounting of the estate, showing all payments made and assets distributed. Once the court approves this accounting, the estate can be officially closed. This final step can take a few weeks to a few months.

What to do if your executor isn’t moving probate along properly:

In some cases, you may feel that the executor of the estate is not managing the probate process efficiently or effectively. In such cases, it's important to understand your rights and the steps you can take. The executor, also known as the personal representative in Arkansas, has a fiduciary duty to manage the estate in the best interest of the beneficiaries, which includes completing the probate process in a timely and efficient manner.

If you believe that the executor is not performing their duties effectively, you can raise your concerns with the probate court. Initially, it's often helpful to have a direct conversation with the executor. They may be able to address your concerns directly or provide a reasonable explanation for any delays.

If this does not resolve your concerns, you can file a complaint with the probate court. In your complaint, you should provide evidence of the executor's inefficiency or negligence. The court will review the complaint and, if it finds it valid, may order the executor to provide a detailed report of their actions and the estate's status. In severe cases of misconduct or mismanagement, the court may even remove the executor and appoint a new one.

However, the removal of an executor is a serious action and is typically a last resort. The court will only consider this if there's clear evidence of misconduct or inability to perform the required duties. As a beneficiary, it's crucial that you understand the probate process, stay informed about the progress of the estate, and ensure that your rights are protected.