Appointment of Executor
The first step of the probate process is having the will validated by the court, or accepted as authentic, and the appointment of the executor named in the will. This process usually takes about a month. New York will sometimes penalize an executor for not submitting a will for probate within a reasonable among of time if a creditor or beneficiary suffers financial harm because of the delay.
Payment of Creditors
Early in the probate process, the executor must notify the deceased’s creditors that his will is in probate. The creditors then have seven months after the executor’s appointment to make a claim against the estate for the money the deceased owed to them. An executor is personally liable if he distributes bequests before all creditors receive payment, so it is unreasonable to expect him to complete probate in less than seven months. In fact, New York will not allow an estate to close before this seven-month period has passed.
Estate Tax Returns
Federal estate tax returns frequently cause the greatest delay in completing probate. Large estates must pay federal taxes on their overall value. The executor’s deadline for filing the return is nine months after the testator’s death. Then the executor must wait for the IRS to approve the return and issue a closing letter, and this process can delay closure of probate up to two years. An executor cannot finish probate and close the estate until she receives this letter. If an estate does not have to file a federal estate tax return, probate may take less than a year.
As of 2010, New York allows very small estates with total assets valued at less than $20,000 to probate through a quicker process called “voluntary administration.” If an executor closes an estate too soon and new assets are found afterward, he is legally obligated to reopen probate to deal with them. If any beneficiary or heir contests the will, it can increase probate time significantly and an executor can do nothing to prevent it. A will contest involves a trial and full-blown litigation that can require years to complete.