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Delays in administrating an estate – what’s the hold up?

We often receive enquiries from beneficiaries of estates, questioning the time it is taking for an executor to attend to distribution.

Beneficiaries may be eager to receive their inheritance; however, the overall process of administering a deceased’s estate simply just takes time.  

After someone dies, it can be several months, to a year or more, before a beneficiary of an estate may see their share in an estate.

Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, there may several issues which need to be addressed by an executor, which can cause delays.

5 common factors which we sometimes see causing delays, include the following:

  1. Locating assets and liabilities of the estate

One of the first steps for an executor is to determine the assets and liabilities of the estate.

This may involve contacting organisations where money or assets are held, request current balances and their respective requirements to release the assets to the estate. This may take several weeks to a few months to collect this information.

There may also be unknown estate assets which continue to emerge during the administration of the estate.

If the estate is small, finalising the estate can be a lot quicker, as the organisations may only request to see the deceased’s Will and death certificate to release the assets to the estate.

  1. Need to obtain a grant of probate

Depending on the assets in an estate, sometimes the one of the biggest time-consuming tasks for an executor is obtaining a grant of probate.

A grant of probate is needed before the executor of a deceased estate can take control of the estate’s assets and administer the estate. If a grant of probate is necessary, the executor of the estate will need to make an application to the Supreme Court of Queensland.

The application for probate cannot be prepared until the original death certificate and Will of the deceased is in the possession of the executor.

From there, the executor has an obligation to advertise their intention to make an application for probate in the Queensland Law Reporter – which must be in place 2 weeks prior to filing their application and serve a copy of their notice to the Public Trustee of Queensland.

Once the application is filed, the Supreme Court may then up to 5 to 7 weeks to process the application and make the grant.

Once the grant of probate has been received, the executor may then take steps to call in the assets of the estate and begin administration process.

  1. Calling in all estate assets

Some assets can be time consuming to call in. Therefore, it may take months before an estate can be fully administered and significantly longer for large and complex estates.

Assets such as bank accounts or nursing home rental accommodation bonds/deposits may take upwards of 2 to 3 weeks to release to the funds to the estate.

If there is a death benefit payable from a superannuation fund to an estate, this may take much longer, depending on whether there was a Binding Death Benefit Nomination in place or if any superannuation claims are being made from any superannuation dependents.

There may also be properties or shares which need to be sold or transferred.

Where an estate has a property, it may be the case that the executor is responsible for selling the property on behalf of the estate.

The timing of this may depend on the current state of the market and how long it takes to finalise the sale and registering a transfer with the Titles Office.  

  1. Outstanding individual or estate tax returns

It may be necessary for an individual tax return to be lodged for a deceased to the Australian Taxation Office – covering the financial year up to the date of death and for an estate return to be lodged from the date of death to the date of distribution.

An executor will normally take steps to engage an accountant to ensure any outstanding tax-related liabilities are met. This may take some time before the executor can attend to final distribution to the beneficiaries of the estate.

If the estate is distributed by an executor and any outstanding tax-related liabilities are not met the executor may have to meet those liabilities personally.

  1. Risks of a claim – 6-month time limit

In Queensland, under the Succession Act 1981 (Qld) there is a period of 6 months from the date of death, in which claims can be made against an estate.

If there is minimal risk of a claim being made against the estate, the executor may choose to make an interim distribution of funds already received (such as cash from any bank accounts) to the beneficiaries of the estate – deferring final distribution, once all assets are called in.

However, if there is risk, it is advisable to wait 6 months before making any distributions from the estate – so as to avoid the executor being personally liable.

The executor of the estate will need to ensure that any applications or notice of applications are dealt with, and that the estate is not distributed until such time as the application or intended application has been withdrawn or resolved.

Are you experiencing delays in administering an estate?

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or require any assistance as an executor or beneficiary of an estate. We are more than happy to guide you through the process.

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The information provided in this article is for general information and educative purposes in summary form on legal topics which is current at the time it is published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such. Whilst every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, Wills, Estates and Probate Lawyers (WEP Lawyers) cannot accept responsibility for any errors, including those caused by negligence, in the material. We make no representations, statements or warranties about the accuracy or completeness of the information and you should not rely on it. You are advised to make your own independent inquiries regarding the accuracy of any information provided on this website. WEP Lawyers does not guarantee, and accepts no legal responsibility whatsoever arising from or in connection to the accuracy, reliability, currency, correctness or completeness of any material contained in this article. Links to third party websites or articles does not constitute any endorsement or approval of those sites or the owners of those sites. Nothing in this article should be construed as granting any licence or right for you to use that content. You should consult the third party’s terms and conditions of use in relation to any third-party content. WEP Lawyers disclaims all responsibility and all liability (including liability for negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages and costs you might incur as a result of the information being inaccurate or incomplete in any way. Appropriate legal advice should always be obtained in actual situations.

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Written by—

Duncan MacDougall

Call 07 3035 4077 to speak with our team now