Heirs who are beneficiaries often think that soon after a family member or other relative dies their inheritance check will be in the mail fairly quickly. That usually does not happen.
Trust administration is not something that can be accomplished quickly, and if probate is necessary this process can last significantly longer, nine to twelve months or more. After the funeral and grieving process is over, these are some of the tasks that go into administering a decedent’s estate and why it takes time.
The first thing that usually happens is that a personal representative in a probate proceeding or a successor trustee in a trust administration must gather all the deceased’s important papers – estate documents, deeds, financial statements, stocks, bonds, medical bills, recent bills, credit card statements, etc. Possessions have to be inventoried, appraised at date of death and protected. For example, did the deceased have a valuable art collection?
If it is a probate proceeding, the personal representative has to file a petition with the court to become the personal representative. That takes time as the court must schedule a hearing and the judge has to grant approval. If anyone contests the request, then the time to settle that question will expand. Since the court has to approve the whole probate process, there may be several hearings over the course of a year.
A successor trustee also has to accept the appointment and if that person lives in another state or has other commitments that will take time to get set up.
Once a personal representative or successor trustee is appointed, a number of basic measures take place. The first thing that usually happens is that the personal representative in a probate proceeding or the successor trustee in a trust administration must gather all the deceased’s important papers – estate documents, deeds, financial statements, stocks, bonds, medical bills, recent bills, credit card statements, etc. Possessions have to be inventoried, appraised at date of death and protected. For example, did the deceased have a valuable art collection? Final outstanding bills have to be paid including the cost of the burial/cremation. Credit card bills have to be paid and cancelled. Normal household expenses (mortgage, utilities, etc.) have to be kept up to date on a temporary basis. Taxes (federal, state, inheritance, etc.), if any, have to be taken into consideration and filed and paid by the personal representative or successor trustee. The social security department has to be notified if the deceased was receiving benefits. There are many other tasks to perform.
Another reason probate takes so long is that the court allows at least four months for any of the deceased’s creditors to come forward with a claim. Not every debt may be obvious to the representative.
At the end of this process, the personal representative or successor trustee is in a position to distribute property and/or money to the beneficiaries. Usually the checks to the beneficiaries are one of the last duties to be handled.
If an estate is large and complicated with numerous heirs, the probate and trust administration process can last one or more years. If it is a relatively simple estate it may take less time unless complications arise.