How Long Does It Take to Get a Beneficiary's Inheritance?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Beneficiary's Inheritance?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Oftentimes, beneficiaries of a will must wait at least a few months before they can receive their inheritance. This is because when a person dies, their will needs to go through probate, which is the court process of settling the deceased's estate. Depending on the size of the estate, this process could take anywhere between a couple of months to a couple of years. The estate executor—the person named in a will that is in charge of executing the estate and distributing the deceased's assets—must complete several different tasks before they can bequeath any inheritance to the beneficiaries.

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The Probate Process

When a person dies leaving behind a will, someone must submit that will to the probate court. Usually this person is the estate executor, who applies for official appointment at the same time of will submission. Depending on the state, court appointment could take a few days to a few weeks. Thus, the probate process does not officially begin for about two weeks after a will is initially submitted. In addition, some states also have statutory delays built into the probate process in the event a beneficiary or heir contests the will. For example, in New Jersey a person cannot submit the deceased's will until at least 10 days have passed from the date of death, which gives time for anyone who wants to object to the will to do so. All these requirements are likely to delay a beneficiary from getting their inheritance at least within the first month following the deceased's death.

Estate Inventory and Appraisals

When an executor is formally appointed by the court, they assume important responsibilities related to the settling of the deceased's estate. Before any inheritance can be distributed to a beneficiary, the executor must inventory all of the deceased's assets, including any real property, personal belongings and financial accounts. This inventory list, along with the value of each asset, must be provided to the probate court. Some high-value assets, such as a person's home, require appraisals. A professional appraisal can often take more than a month—often three months—to complete. This step must be completed before a beneficiary can receive any inheritance.

Creditor and Tax Deadlines

As part of settling an estate, the executor is required to notify all the deceased's creditors that she has died and that the estate is in probate. Every state gives creditors a set period of time in which they can make claims to the executor for payment. For example, Florida gives creditors three months from the date of notification to submit a claim, while Maine gives creditors nine months. The executor then has typically one month to determine whether the claims are valid.

The executor is also required to pay any final taxes of the deceased. This includes state and federal estate taxes where applicable. Smaller estates are generally exempt from paying estate taxes, which can extend probate up to one to two years.

Executors must complete these tasks before distributing any inheritance to a beneficiary. If you are a beneficiary, you can likely expect to receive your inheritance sometime after six months has passed since probate first began. If you would like more information on the probate process, contact an online service provider who can help answer any questions.

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