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How long does it take to distribute a will?

If you have a vested interest in a deceased loved one’s estate, it is natural to wonder how long the will distribution process will take. Unfortunately, every situation is unique. Probating a will can take six to eight months for simpler estates to three years or more for more complex ones.

Several factors affect the timeline of the probate process. Many of these have to do with state rules and deadlines. While these rules and deadlines are far from uniform between states, there are certain processes every state requires. SmartAsset explores the processes executors must complete before they can distribute assets to beneficiaries.

Filing the will for probate

Regardless of in which state your loved one wrote a will, the first thing the chosen executor must do is submit the will for the court’s approval. This step is necessary for solidifying the executor’s assigned role. Some states have deadlines by which the executor must submit the will. Unfortunately, Florida is one of the few states that do not.

However, as a fiduciary of the deceased’s estate, the executor has a duty to file the will sooner rather than later, as the estate will continue to accrue taxes and other fees regardless of whether anyone files it. Because of this, most courts will agree that sitting on a will is in violation of the executor’s fiduciary duty.

Taking inventory

Before an executor can begin to distribute an estate, he or she must take inventory of the estate’s assets. Not only must he or she round up all the assets of the estate but also, he or she must seek valuations. Valuations are important for two reasons. For one, the total value of the estate will determine whether it is subject to estate taxes. Two, a valuation will tell the executor if the estate is solvent, meaning the total value of the estate’s assets exceeds its debts.

As with filing the will, many state codes specify a deadline for taking the initial inventory. Others allow probate court judges to set deadlines on a case-by-case basis.

Paying taxes and debts

Finally, before the executor can begin to distribute your loved one’s will, he or she must pay the estate’s taxes and debts. For many estates, this process is the one that has the greatest impact on the length of the probate process. This is in large part because the executor must make creditors aware of the estate and give each a chance to make claims against it. State law dictates for how long after a testator’s death creditors may make claims.

If your loved one’s estate is subject to estate taxes, this too could elongate the process. Paying taxes becomes particularly tricky when the testator has real estate in multiple states.

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