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

By Laura Payet

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

By Laura Payet

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 factors such as what state's laws apply and how complicated the estate is. While state laws vary, in general, the executor has as much time to settle an estate as necessary, as long as she meets all statutory deadlines along the way.

Suited man sifting through paperwork while sitting at a desk at an open laptop

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, and distributing assets to the will's beneficiaries. In many cases, the executor may need to consult with attorneys, accountants, and appraisers. If she distributes estate assets to the beneficiaries before all debts and taxes are paid, she may find herself personally liable to creditors. Many states provide deadlines for the various steps in the probate process.

The executor's first task is to institute probate proceedings by filing petitions to be appointed executor and to 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 and Wisconsin, the deadline is 30 days. Minnesota, in contrast, requires probate proceedings to be initiated within three years after death. Some 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 simple and quick or complex and lengthy. The executor may need to hire appraisers to help set a value on particular assets. In some states, there is a deadline to file the inventory with the court. For example, in Texas, the executor has 90 days to submit an inventory, but, in New York, she has 9 months.

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 time period is sufficient. In others, the executor must attempt to identify and notify each creditor individually. After receiving notice, creditors have a state-specified deadline to submit claims to the estate. In Florida, creditors have three months. In Texas, they have four months. 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 final income taxes. Additionally, if the estate includes accounts or properties that continue to generate earnings during probate, 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. Thereafter, the Internal Revenue Service takes between six and nine months to process the return and send a closing letter. Additionally, many states, including New York, Connecticut, Maine, and Delaware, have their own estate or inheritance taxes.

Handling a loved one's estate can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Reach out to an online service provider for guidance.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.