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Why Does Estate Administration Take So Long? (Part 1)

When I explain the estate administration process, I am usually asked, “how long will it take?”  The person will often preface that question by first stating that “it’s a simple estate” or “all the heirs are in agreement”.

I tell people that, on average, an estate can require 9 months to a year to finalize.  It does, however, vary depending on how much of a decedent’s (the person who died) assets are passed by way of a will (or intestacy laws when there is no will) vs. other methods such as by payable on death designation or operation of law (ie. joint with right of survivorship), whether there is a validly executed will, whether there are multiple heirs and whether there are any estate, inheritance and/or income taxes due.

Conversely, the estate administration process is quite simple and relatively quick in many cases.  The commonalities to an “easy” estate tend to be few probate assets, no tax issues and a sole heir who is also the executor or administrator.  Estate administration in these instances can be accomplished in a matter of weeks or a couple of months.

So, why is it that some estates take longer to administer?  There are a variety of reason but we can start with whether the decedent left a valid will executed in accordance with New Jersey law.   If so, submitting the original will and death certificate can result in an executor being appointed as soon as a week or two.  No application to the probate court is needed.  As an aside, however, since Covid it has taken longer than pre-Covid because county Surrogate offices are often understaffed and overwhelmed with applications.  But, it still should only take a few weeks at most to obtain the Surrogate certificates.

To summarize, if the executor is the sole heir and no inheritance or estate taxes are due, the estate can be wrapped up quickly.  It gets more complicated in other instances.  I’ll explain more next week.