If you’ve never been an executor of an estate, you may be in for a few surprises. Things don’t always happen when you want them to, and you don’t always have control over the time frame.
Once you have been part of settling an estate, whether as the executor or as an heir, the experience will stay with you. You won’t be surprised when things that seem to need only weeks to complete take months. A recent article explains it all in executor.com, “How Quickly Do I Need to Settle an Estate?”
The answer to how long it takes to settle an estate when you are serving as an executor is, well, it depends. The process can typically take about a year, but there are several factors to think about.
When a will is filed with the court, it starts the process called probate. The probate court oversees the executor’s actions as he or she completes every step of closing the decedent’s estate. There are many things the probate court does, including making sure that the assets are properly distributed to beneficiaries. Of course, you have no control over the pace of the court. This includes such things as when your file will be reviewed, when hearings will take place and so on. That’s all up to the judge and his or her staff.
As executor, you’ll need to get letters of testamentary from the probate court before you can do anything with estate assets such as bank accounts, autos, property, and investment accounts. You have to wait for the court’s approval to proceed. On the other hand, the probate court may set deadlines for the executor to accomplish specific tasks, like the distribution of the estate assets after an accounting of those assets has been completed.
Larger estates obviously take more time to settle than smaller ones. As the asset types become more complex, the time required to spend settling the estate can increase dramatically. For example, if the deceased had ownership interests in a small business, extensive property holdings, or complex investments, it may take longer to organize these, so the beneficiaries receive their distributions as outlined in the will.
Another factor impacting the time to settle an estate has to do with whether or not the person died without a will. If that happens, it can take longer because the probate court has to appoint an estate administrator and more closely monitor the estate.
Some people are great about keeping records in their lifetime. This can really help to expedite the work of an executor.
Beneficiaries and surviving family members who are set to inherit can delay things for several reasons. Some may be grieving and unable to provide required paperwork and information. Others may dispute the will, and some beneficiaries may be hard to locate. Keeping beneficiaries updated about the process and understanding that there will likely be obstacles can be useful when it comes to both dealing with and avoiding beneficiary-related issues.
The best advice for someone who is named executor of an estate is: you’ll need plenty of patience, the ability to diplomatically communicate with heirs when things don’t go as fast as they may wish and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, since surprises inevitably arise.
Reference: executor.com (November 1, 2017) “How Quickly Do I Need to Settle an Estate?”