How long can an executor wait before distributing the assets of an estate?
An estate trustee has many responsibilities. Before the beneficiaries of an estate have a legal entitlement to demand payment of their inheritance, an estate trustee generally has 12 months to administer the estate. This is commonly called the “Executor’s Year”.
This one-year period starts after the estate trustee obtains a “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee” from Superior Court, which formally names them as the estate trustee for the estate in question.
The Executor’s Year has two major functions.
The first is to impress upon estate trustees that they do not have an indefinite period of time to administer the estate. Beneficiaries have an interest in ensuring that the matters have concluded on a timely basis. The second is to impress upon beneficiaries that estates cannot be wound up overnight. This is especially so in cases where the estate has significant assets or liabilities and multiple parties involved.
There is nothing preventing an estate trustee from making an earlier distribution. But if the year has passed and the beneficiaries have not received their entitlements, the beneficiaries can take action for unnecessary delay. While the terms of a deceased’s will often provide the estate trustee the discretion to determine when and how to liquidate the deceased’s estate, all debts of the estate must be satisfied before this is done.