Being the executor of an estate can be a time-consuming job, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. While a simple estate can take a few months and not require a huge time commitment, if there are problems, the job can drag on for years.
An executor is the person responsible for managing the administration of a deceased individual’s estate. Although the time and effort involved will vary with the size of the estate, even if you are the executor of a small estate, you will have important duties that must be performed correctly or you may be liable to the estate or the beneficiaries.
The first thing an executor should do is to consult with an attorney to learn the deadlines in the state where the decedent lived. To start the probate process, the executor must file the will for probate. Some states have strict time limits on how long after a decedent dies the executor has to file the will with the court, while others have no time limits. In addition, there may be deadlines for the executor to prepare a list of all of the deceased’s assets and file this inventory with the court. It is important for the executor to understand what is required and when.
Some of the common tasks required of executors include locating important document belonging to the deceased, hiring an attorney, notifying interested parties, managing the deceased’s property, paying valid claims by creditors, filing tax returns, distributing assets to beneficiaries, keeping accurate records of all of these tasks, and filing the final accounting with the court.
As you can imagine, with all of those tasks, it can take some time to get everything in order. How much actual time an executor will have to devote to the job can range widely, however. Settling an estate takes an average of 16 months, according to a study done by software company EstateExec, and the settlement process requires an average of roughly 570 hours of work on the part of the executor. Large estates (over $5 million) were shown to take three times longer to settle than small estates (less than $10k), but roughly 80% of all estates are settled within 18 months. Additionally, average compensation for executors was $18,000.
While executors must adhere to deadlines set by the state, other factors can make the estate administration go faster or slower. The following are the issues that can add or subtract time:
- Debts. The executor must notify potential creditors about the decedent’s death. Usually, the executor must inform all known creditors by letter and publish a notice in a local paper for unknown creditors. Each state gives creditors a certain amount of time, which can range from a few months to a year, to file claims against the estate. The executor must wait for the deadline to pass and then settle all the debts before distributing assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.
- Location. The location of the executor and the beneficiaries can affect the time it takes to settle the estate. If the executor does not live in the same state as the decedent and the beneficiaries, it can take more time to send documents back and forth.
- Assets. The more complicated the assets, the longer it will take the executor to sort everything out. If the estate consists of just a house and bank account, things will go more quickly than if the estate consists of multiple bank accounts, stocks, brokerage accounts, valuables, and/or a family business.
- Contested Estate. If the beneficiaries are fighting amongst themselves or with the executor, the probate process is going to take longer. One way an unhappy family member can hold up probate is by contesting the will, based on mental incapacity, undue influence, fraud, or allegations that it wasn’t executed properly. A beneficiary can also prolong the process by challenging the executor’s actions.
Every family situation is unique, so there is no set time that an executor can expect to work. If you are named as an executor, check with an attorney in the decedent’s state to find out what to expect.
The information provided is not intended to be legal or tax advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.