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NC and SC Estate Planning and Elder Law Firm

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Long Does It Take To Settle An Estate?

Sorting out a loved one’s estate can be overwhelming. There funeral expenses to take care of right away, and other bills soon start to pile up. And there are lots of non-monetary things to take care of as well, including grieving. Under the very best circumstances, the estate administration process takes an average of 9-18 months, but death rarely brings out the best in people, so it often takes much longer to settle an estate.

An example of just how long it can take to settle an estate was on display in Durham, North Carolina last month. The famous historian/professor/activist John Hope Franklin, who broke new ground in the study of African American history, and was deeply involved in the civil rights movement (some of his research was used in the litigation of the famous Brown v. Board of Education case, which struck down the segregationist policy of “separate but equal” schools for children of different races), passed away in 2009, but an estate sale/tag sale was just held at his home. Our firm isn’t involved with his estate, so we don’t know anything more than was reported by the media, but based on the fact that his home is just now being cleared out, it might end up taking a decade to fully close out his estate.

Dr. Franklin’s case is unique given his prestige and the historic and cultural value of many of his possessions, some of which were given to the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Duke University. However, the estates of many regular people take years to settle as well.

One of the main reasons estates drag on is a lack of estate planning. If a loved one dies without a will, it can take years to sort out what is to be done with his or her assets and how to pay off debts. Hiring a professional estate administrator is often very helpful in these situations because dealing with such an estate can be like taking on a part-time job. Estate administrators typically charge a fee based on the size of the estate, and collect that fee from the estate, so this is an option for all different sizes of estates.

The second thing that can hold up the settlement of an estate is a family dispute. When there are not clear instructions about who gets what, or the choices made by the deceased lead to hurt feelings, the resulting fight can tie up an estate for years. If the parties choose to get lawyers involved, this can also be quite costly since the fees of the lawyers who are defending the estate plan are deducted from the estate. It can get to be a Dickensian-like scenario where the costs of fighting over the estate lead to the estate going bankrupt and nobody getting anything.

These are the two most common reasons an estate may take more than the average 9-18 months to settle, but they are by no means the only reasons for delay. Complex estates, where there are substantial assets or real estate issues that need to be resolved, for example, can also take a long time to settle.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with the task of administering a loved one’s estate, don’t hesitate to reach out to an estate planning professional for help or advice.

 


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