How Long Does an Executor of a Will Have to Settle an Estate?

How Long Is A Will Valid After Death?

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Executing a Will within the Legal Deadlines

A Will Must Be executed within 30 days. IF you ask anyone about the probate process, you find out that probate takes a long time. The probate process is a safety measure for the distribution of property when someone dies. The executor is the person charged with managing a deceased person’s estate throughout probate—the legal process of proving and executing a will. Probate can take months or even years to complete, depending on what state’s laws apply and how complicated the estate is. While state laws vary, the executor has as much time to settle an estate as necessary, as long as she meets all statutory deadlines along the way.

An elderly couple snuggling together contemplating death.

Executor Duties and Deadlines

An executor’s responsibilities include:

Petitioning the court to open probate.

Inventorying the estate assets.

Notifying any creditors and settling debts.

Paying taxes.

Distributing assets to the will’s beneficiaries.

In many cases, the executor may need to consult with attorneys, accountants, and appraisers. Suppose she distributes estate assets to the beneficiaries before all debts and taxes are paid. In that case, she may be personally liable to creditors. Many states provide deadlines for the various steps in the probate process.

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The executor’s first task is to institute probate proceedings by filing petitions to be appointed executor and admit the estate. Some states have a deadline for initiating this process, often between 10 and 90 days from the date of the deceased’s passing or from when the executor received notice of death. In both California the deadline is 30 days. The courts require a hearing on these petitions, which requires notice to all will beneficiaries.

Once probate begins, the executor must collect and value the estate’s assets. Depending on the extent of the deceased’s property, this process can be quick and straightforward or complex and lengthy. The executor may need to hire appraisers to help set a value on particular assets. There is a deadline to file the inventory with the court in some states. For example, the executor has 90 days to submit an inventory list; there are 30 days in California.

Another of the executor’s duties is to notify creditors of the death and settle all outstanding debts. This step can proceed in tandem with inventorying the assets. Each state has different rules for notifying potential creditors. In some states, publication of a notice in local newspapers for a set period is sufficient. In others, the executor must attempt to identify and notify each creditor individually. After receiving information, creditors have a state-specified deadline to submit claims to the estate. In California, the deadline is 60 days from the notice date or four months from when the estate was opened.

Income and Estate Taxes

An executor cannot settle the estate until all taxes are paid. Often, this step requires consultation with accountants and attorneys. First, the executor must file the deceased’s final income tax return and pay any income taxes. Additionally, suppose the estate includes accounts or properties that continue to generate earnings during probate. In that case, the estate itself may owe income taxes.

Further, the executor may need to pay estate and inheritance taxes. As of 2019, any estate valued below $11.4 million escapes federal estate taxes. For those subject to this tax, the executor has nine months to file a tax return, with the option to obtain a further six-month extension. After that, the Internal Revenue Service takes between six and nine months to process the return and send a closing letter.