How Long Is Somebody the Executor of a Will?

by Beverly Bird
An executor holds office until the probate estate is closed.

An executor holds office until the probate estate is closed.

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The executor of a will is in office from the time she opens probate and is sworn in until the court closes the estate at the end of probate. This can take anywhere from a few months in a state that offers a simplified process for wills, to three or more years for complicated estates. Several situations can make the probate process take longer.

Testator’s Organization Habits

If the testator, or the person who left the will, was organized during his life, the initial stages of probate will be relatively easy, and you can probably accomplish the first tasks quickly. Executing a will involves identifying the deceased’s assets and notifying his creditors that he has passed away. The faster you can locate the paperwork corresponding to all these things, the more you can expedite the probate process.

Tax Returns

The criteria for federal estate taxes changes yearly. Generally, a probate estate is liable for them when the overall value reaches a certain point. If you have to file estate taxes on the value of the estate, there is a strong possibility that the IRS will audit the return. If this happens, you cannot close probate until you get a closing letter from the IRS indicating that they have approved the return.

Sale of Assets

Part of the probate process is paying off the deceased’s debts with his assets. After you have determined what those debts and assets are, you must figure out if the assets are sufficient to cover everything that is due. If there are not enough liquid or cash assets to accomplish this, the executor might have to sell off real estate and other concrete assets to raise the funds. This can prolong the probate process and keep you in office awhile longer.

Creditor Disputes

In every state, the executor of a will must give notice to the deceased’s creditors early in the probate process, usually both by registered mail if you know about them and a notice in the newspaper if you do not. Then each state orders a waiting period while the creditors make claims against the estate for what is owed to them, usually three to four months. As the claims come in, you must decide whether or not they are legitimate. If they are, you will pay them through the assets of the estate. If they are not, you have to notify them that you are not going to pay them and they can then elect to file a lawsuit to have a judge decide whether or not their debt is valid. Such a lawsuit can take months and extend your time as executor.

Will Contests

A will contest is the greatest impediment to closing an estate. If one occurs, it is a whole separate law suit. It usually involves a trial, depositions, exchange of discovery and pretrial motions. If a beneficiary or heir contests the deceased’s will, you can count on being executor for a period of years since you are not relieved of your duties until the estate settles.