Being named an executor is a significant responsibility.  It can also be quite time consuming, depending on the size and complexity of the estate.  Most estates can be settled within a year, but there are definitely exceptions to this. Before closing an estate, the executor must complete certain requirements.

Deadlines Must Be Met

Typically, probate is supervised by the court, which makes sure the executor does the job required of them in a timely manner.  Courts set deadlines during the process of probate.  However, the timing in regard to these deadlines vary from state to state.  The court may intervene or other parties may challenge if the executor fails to meet the appointed deadlines.

Before Opening Probate

Before beginning the probate process, the executor must file a petition in order to submit the will into probate.  He or she must also petition the court in order to be allowed to fulfill his or her role as executor.  This gives beneficiaries and other interested parties the ability to object to that specific individual being the executor of the estate.  Before a will can be admitted, a hearing must be held.  All beneficiaries of the estate must be notified before this hearing can occur.  Each state has its own set of timelines regarding how soon a will must be admitted for probate, ranging from one month to five years so it is best to check the regulations for your state.

Asset Identification

After being appointed, the executor must gather and value the estate’s assets.  This period of time varies greatly depending on the size of the estate, the executor’s knowledge of the estate, and whether assets need to be appraised.  Once this is completed, the executor must file with the probate court an inventory of the assets.  This is an initial inventory and can be amended if new assets are found. However, each amendment extends the amount of time the probate process takes.

Creditor Notification

All creditors must be notified of the deceased’s passing by the executor.  How this is carried out depends on the state. Some states require that each creditor be notified via mail while others require that an ad be placed in local newspapers for a set period of time.  The amount of time a creditor has to make a claim to the estate is also dependent upon the state.  Once a creditor makes a claim it is the responsibility of the executor to settle that claim.

You Can’t Forget About Taxes

The executor must file the final tax returns of the deceased and pay any taxes owed by the estate.  If there are any estate taxes, the executor is responsible for ensuring those are paid as well.  Estate taxes only apply to estates greater than five million dollars in value. Executors handling these large estates cannot settle the estate until an estate tax return is filed and the IRS has sent an estate tax closing letter.  This can take approximately four to six months.

Factors Affecting Length of Time Required to Settle an Estate

Complex Estates

Large estates can take years to settle, especially if they involve large private businesses, foreign property, or complex assets to value such as pedigree animals. The forensic accounting and asset appraisal become a complicated process.  If those assets need to be sold, that also adds to the length of the timeline.

Multiple Beneficiaries

Locating multiple beneficiaries, especially if they live globally, can be very time consuming.  This becomes especially challenging if the family is estranged.

Dissatisfied Family Members

This issue typically arises when certain family members feel they should be named as a beneficiary but are not.  They are able to challenge not only the will, but also the choice of executor and how the assets are distributed.  While these individuals rarely win their case, they can lengthen the process of closing an estate for a lengthy amount of time, months and, in some cases, even years.

Unsuitable Executor

Not every individual is suited to be an executor, no matter how well intentioned he or she might be.  The individual may not have the necessary skills or time to be able to efficiently close an estate.  The best way to avoid this potential issue is taking the time to think through whom you want to name as your executor.  Don’t simply pick someone close to you. Pick an individual who has the ability to handle the additional stress and workload that comes along with being the executor of an estate.