Probate is the legal process of finalizing the affairs of a deceased person, and it includes paying the debts and taxes of the person’s estate, and distributing the person’s remaining property to his or her heirs and beneficiaries. Exactly how long probate takes depends on a number of factors, including the size of the deceased person’s estate and whether or not any conflicts arise between family members or creditors during the probate process. A relatively small estate that does not encounter a will contest or challenges from creditors can pass though probate in a period ranging from several months to a year. On the other hand, a large estate that requires complicated appraisals, owes a great deal of money in estate taxes, or is the subject of a will contest or other conflict between relatives can be tied up in probate for a period of years. The only property that is subject to the probate process is property that’s owned solely by the deceased at the time of his or her death. Property that is owned jointly with another person (such as a home held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship), property with a designated beneficiary, or property held by a trust is not subject to the probate process. If you’re concerned about the probate process and would like to arrange your estate so that you can avoid probate, talk to an estate planning attorney. He or she can help you evaluate your family’s current situation, as well as your goals, and establish an estate plan that’s right for you.