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

27 February 2020

In most cases, it takes around 9-12 months for an Executor to settle an Estate. However, it can take significantly longer, depending on the size and complexity of the Estate and the efficiency of the Executor.

There is no set time limit for completing the Estate administration process in full, but there is a deadline for submitting the Inheritance Tax form which must be met by the Executor.

What are the Steps to Settling an Estate?

There are a number of complex steps that the Executor will have to carry out in order to settle the Estate. These steps need to be carried out in the correct order, in accordance with the law and either in accordance with the Will (if there was one) or the Rules of Intestacy if there was not.

Inheritance Tax

The first step in settling an Estate is to calculate the total Estate value. This means locating and valuing everything the deceased person owned, including all bank accounts, pension funds, shares, property, assets and personal belongings. In addition, any outstanding debts also need to be taken into consideration, and the value of these will need to be deducted from the overall value of the Estate.

Once the Estate value has been calculated, the Executor will need to determine whether or not Inheritance Tax is payable, and if so how much. There are many factors which can impact the Inheritance Tax liability and calculating the amount due can be complicated. Tax exemptions, nil-rate bands and lifetime gifts are just some of the elements that will need to be considered here.

If Inheritance Tax is due on the Estate, then the relevant tax form must be completed and submitted, along with payment of the Inheritance Tax, within 6 months of the date of death. If the Estate isn't liable for Inheritance Tax, then a different form will need to be submitted to HM Revenue & Customs.

With our Probate Complete Service we will obtain the Grant of Probate and deal with the Legal, Tax (not VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs*.

Applying for a Grant of Probate

Only once the Inheritance Tax has been paid can the Executor can apply for a Grant of Probate. This is the legal document that will give the Executor the authority to deal with the deceased person's affairs.

There is no deadline for applying for a Grant of Probate. In England and Wales, it takes around 3 to 6 months on average to obtain a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry. For larger, more complex Estates this could be longer.

Collecting in Assets and Settling Debts

One the Grant of Probate has been received, the Executor then needs to collect in all of the assets. This could include closing bank accounts, selling shares, cashing in life insurance policies, dealing with pension funds and selling property.

In some instances, the deceased person may have assets that their friends and family didn't know about. If this is the case, then it could take the Executor significantly longer to locate all of the assets.

Once funds are in the Estate, these first need to be used to settle any outstanding debts. The Executor will need to be diligent when establishing what debts the deceased person had and giving creditors an opportunity to come forward. If the correct steps aren't taken and unknown creditors come forward later on then the Executor can be held financially liable for unpaid debts.

Distributing the Estate

Once everything else has been taken care of, the rest of the Estate will need to be distributed to the Beneficiaries. These are the people that the deceased person named in their Will to inherit from them or those entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy.

The Executor is responsible for identifying and contacting all of the Beneficiaries. If there are a significant number of Beneficiaries and some of these are hard to locate or to contact, then this can delay the process.

Once all of the Beneficiaries have been contacted, the Estate can then be distributed in line with the wishes set out in the Will or the Rules of Intestacy.

If the Executor Takes an Unreasonable Amount of Time

As you will have noted, Probate is a long and complicated process, which can take a very long time to complete.

If you are a Beneficiary of an Estate and you believe that the Executor is taking an unreasonable amount of time to settle the Estate, then there are things you can do to address this.

The first step should be to speak to the Executor and ask them what the reason is for the delay – they may have a reasonable explanation for this. For example, if there are foreign assets in the Estate, shares that need to be sold or property that is proving difficult to sell, then this can all add to the length of time it takes the Executor to settle the Estate.

Executors are obliged to carry out the administration of the Estate in the best interests of the Beneficiaries and they should also keep Beneficiaries updated and respond to their queries. As a Beneficiary, you have a legal right to make a claim against the Executor if you feel that they are not carrying out their duties in the correct way.

If you feel that your only option is to take legal action against the Executor, this could result in the Executor being replaced or a claim being made against them for a breach of duty.

*We can also pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral, providing the Estate owns sufficient assets which can be sold in due course to repay our costs.

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