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How long can an Executor wait before distributing an estate?

View profile for Helen Cohen
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If you have been left a legacy in someone’s Will, or you are inheriting from someone who did not leave a Will, you may be wondering how soon your entitlement will be paid to you. We take a look at the Probate process and why Executors or Administrators may wait a while before making payments to beneficiaries.

After someone’s death, their Executor or Administrator will deal with the winding-up of their estate. This includes selling valuable items, encashing shares and policies, and clearing and selling property. Before this can be done, they will need to apply for a Grant of Probate or a Grant of Letters of Administration confirming that they have the necessary authority.

The whole estate administration process can be lengthy, and so those who are to inherit under the estate can become impatient and keen to receive their entitlement as soon as possible. However, it is quite normal for Executors or Administrators to wait for a period of time before distributing, rather than paying the money out as soon as they have access to estate funds. This can be frustrating, but there are several good reasons why you may not receive your legacy straightaway.


Why Executors wait before distributing an estate:


Clearing debts

Firstly, the Executor will want to wait until all of the estate’s debts have been identified and all of the assets collected in. Sometime estate funds will be released by asset holders (such as banks and building societies) before a Grant is issued, however with larger balances and dependent upon the requirements of the asset holder, many will require a Grant before they will pay out account balances.

Once estate funds are available, the liabilities will start being cleared by the Executor. If an Executor fails to clear all of the estate’s debts, they can be held personally liable, so they will want to make completely sure they have done all they can to locate creditors. In some cases, the Executor may have trouble identifying all debts, so they may choose to place statutory notices in the press, advertising to any potential creditors to come forward. Any creditors have two months from the date of these notices to come forward to be able to claim the money they are owed from the Executor. If any creditors some forward after this period, their claim can only be made against the beneficiaries of the estate, thereby protecting the Executor from any unwanted liability.


Locating beneficiaries

As with locating all creditors and ensuring any debts are paid, Executors and Administrators have a duty to ensure that the estate monies are being paid to the appropriate people. For example, if someone died without leaving a Will and it is not certain how many eligible beneficiaries there are, then the Administrator may instruct experts to trace and identify any potential family members and beneficiaries, to ensure that they have done all they can to locate the appropriate people who are entitled to the estate. It is very difficult for an Administrator to ever be certain that they are paying to all those who are entitled when someone dies without a Will, and so it is common for Administrators to take extra steps to investigate the family connections. These sorts of investigations can take time, and can therefore add to the length of the administration process.


Waiting to see if a claim is made

In most cases, an estate administration can run smoothly without any objections to the Will or the provisions which has been made for the beneficiaries. However, there are certain classes of people who are entitled to make a claim in a deceased person’s estate, if they feel they have not received adequate provision under the Will (or the laws of intestacy, if the deceased died without a Will). Any such claims must usually be made and notified to the Executor or Administrator within 10 months of the date the Grant is issued. Executors and Administrators may therefore wish to wait until this time has passed, before making any distributions from an estate. If it has already taken several months to obtain the Grant, this can mean that an estate is not distributed for well over a year.

If the deceased person died with a Will, in most cases this will be considered valid and the estate administration will be governed by the terms of the Will. However, it is possible for the validity of a Will to be challenged. If this happens, or if an Executor has reason to believe the Will might be challenged, they should be cautious about distributing the estate before the issue of the validity of the Will has been resolved.


What to do if you are waiting to receive a legacy from an estate

If you are entitled to receive something from someone’s estate, and you are concerned that it is taking a long time for your inheritance to be paid to you, in most cases it is likely there is a reasonable explanation.

You may want to contact the Executor or Administrator and request an update on the progress of the administration, and ask if it is possible for them to estimate when you might be able to receive your entitlement.

Executors or Administrators may sometimes consider making an interim payment out of the estate, however it is entirely at their discretion whether or not they offer to do this.


Contact us

If you would like advice on your position as a legatee or beneficiary, and would like to speak to make an appointment to speak to one of our Probate and Estate Administration lawyers, please call us on 01252 733770 or email us at