How Soon Are Wills Executed After a Death?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How Soon Are Wills Executed After a Death?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When a loved one passes away, you might find yourself tasked with settling the deceased person's affairs. If your deceased loved one left a valid will, your state may require it to go through probate court in order to distribute the assets of the estate legally and appropriately.

Man concernedly looking at laptop

If your state requires probate, its laws dictate how—and how quickly—you can open a probate proceeding to validate the will and administer the estate. In some states, you can file the will to open a probate case immediately. In other states, a certain time period must elapse before you can file the will with probate court.

Required Probate Proceedings

Probate court matters are legal proceedings designed to validate wills and administer the estates of the people who left last wills and testaments. Probate proceedings also settle the estates of those who died without valid wills. Your state's probate code, or similar statutory provisions, determine whether a will requires probate.

In some states, every last will and testament must go through probate court administration. In other states, wills do not need to go through probate proceedings if state law considers the deceased person's probate estate to be small. The probate estate generally includes assets in the deceased person's name alone at the time of death, without one or more joint owners and without beneficiaries.

The probate process can take about six to nine months to complete, but varies depending on the size of the assets that need to be distributed. If any disputes are involved, the process can take much longer.

Submitting a Deceased Loved One's Will

When a will enters probate court for administration, the court seeks to appoint someone as the executor or personal representative for the estate. The personal representative must act in a fiduciary capacity, meaning that they must act in the best interest of the estate—and not in their own best interest.

Responsibilities of the personal representative include safeguarding the deceased person's assets, notifying creditors and other interested parties of the person's death (which may include publishing a formal notice in a legal newspaper), paying valid debts (including final expenses and estate administration costs), filing and paying income and estate taxes, and distributing assets according to the deceased person's wishes as established in the will. If your loved one died without a will, or "intestate," the court distributes assets according to your state's intestacy laws.

Limitations for Filing Wills

Your state's probate code may require that you wait to file the will for administration until a specific period of time has passed—for example, 120 hours after the decedent's death. Your state may also provide a deadline for filing a will for traditional probate estate administration. In some states, a family member or other potential beneficiary must submit a will for administration within three years of the decedent's date of death.

It's important to note that the exact processes, time frames, and steps involved in probate administration vary by state. When in doubt, consult with a licensed probate attorney in your area to ensure your loved one's estate goes through the appropriate administration in accordance with applicable laws.

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.