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When Your Heirs Can Expect To Get Their Money Or Other Asset

Assets That Pass Through A Will

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Assets that are distributed through your Will usually take the most time to become available to your heirs.

Probate, the process of proving your Will and settling your estate, can take as long as two years even without any complications -- and a lot longer with complications.

The amount of time it takes to distribute your assets during probate is not necessarily related to the size of your estate. Even small estates can take a long time to be settled.

In some states and with some estates, this period can be a lot shorter -- perhaps just a few months.

While your beneficiaries may receive an advance against the assets you leave them, they won't receive ownership of assets until the end of the probate.

Probate is by nature a slow process, even without complications, because:

  • Most Personal Representatives/Executors hire attorneys and accountants to do most of the actual work involved in administering the estate. Most attorneys work to deadlines, and everything else gets done when there's time. Administering an estate usually falls into the latter category -- even when beneficiaries push for fast work.
  • Since your bequests will be paid in cash unless you specify otherwise, it takes time to sell things appropriately.
  • A federal estate tax return and, perhaps, a state estate tax return, has to be filed and any taxes must be paid, before the deadline of nine months after the date of death. An income tax return must also be filed and income taxes paid. If there is the possibility that more tax will be due, a Personal Representative/Executor usually won't distribute any of your assets until the returns have been signed-off by the IRS and often the state as well. See Estate Taxes for more information.
  • Generally, your estate cannot be settled until the court and/or your beneficiaries review a detailed accounting of your estate. An accounting is not prepared until the probate is about to be ended. It's hard to push an attorney to prepare the accounting quickly. If there are questions, the process can go on and on.

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