Is There a Deadline for Settling an Estate?

A living trust is not subject to an immediate deadline.
A living trust is not subject to an immediate deadline. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

An estate refers to the whole of a person's possessions and typically includes real estate, investment properties, financial accounts, collectibles, works of art and heirlooms. In most states, an estate can remain unsettled for up to 90 years, or 21 years after the death of all those living when the trust was first established. Such statutory limits prevent an estate from remaining unsettled forever.

Notice of Death

The trustee must send notice of death by certified mail to the county assessor of each county in which the trustor owned real property. In general, trustees must send notice of death upon the decedent's death. Pennsylvania probate code requires a trustee to administer a trust "as a prudent person would." The trust must also file notice of death with the local superior court where the trustor was residing at the time of her death so the county clerk can publish a copy in the newspaper. All notices should go out at the same time.

Notice of Administration

Notice of administration is sent to trust beneficiaries upon the decedent's death. Prudent administration is required in most states. Giving notice helps trustees to determine whether the trust might be contested. In 1997, the state of California, recognized the importance of prudent administration and amended its code accordingly. Notice of administration states the date of death of the trust grantor, the file number of the estate and the designation and the street address of the probate court in which the trust agreement is recorded. Once letters are sent to beneficiaries, the trustee must provide the court with a copy for court records.

Contest a Trust

There is a limited period of time in which beneficiaries may contest a trust. For example, in Florida, beneficiaries have 120 days to file a complaint with the court. Depending on the complexity of the investigation, hearings may delay trust administration by several months or years. Some distributions may be made during this time.

Administration Duties

During trust administration, the trustee must locate trust property in a prudent manner and distribute trust property to beneficiaries in accordance with the trust agreement. When locating trust property, a trustee is not held to a specific time frame. However, the trustee must act with due diligence and hire an asset recovery company if necessary. In most states, a trustee can enter a trustor's home in search of financial documents that may lead to the recovery of assets. Distributions and allocations of trust property are made in accordance with the trust agreement, and may have provisions regarding when and under what circumstances money may be paid out. For example, the trustee may be required to hold real property for an infant beneficiary until the child reaches legal age.

Filing Taxes

The trustee is required to file the trust's income tax returns on time. If the trust uses a calendar year, the trustee must file tax returns by April 15 following the year of death. If the trust uses a fiscal year, the trustee must file tax returns by the 15th day of the fourth month after the end of the fiscal year.

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