How Long Does the Executor Have to Pay the Beneficiaries?

There’s no standard deadline for paying beneficiaries of a will, but estates complete the probate process in six to nine months on average. Probate laws vary by state, and many states don’t set a deadline at all for executors to pay the beneficiaries of a will.

Approximately when can beneficiaries of a will expect to be paid?

In general, the time it takes to pay beneficiaries depends largely on the size and complexity of the estate. Here’s how some states address this issue:

  • Virginia: Beneficiaries must receive payment within a year, or else interest accrues at the current legal interest rate until the beneficiary is paid in full. The executor pays the interest, not the estate

  • Colorado: A court may close the estate if there hasn’t been any action on it in three years

  • North Carolina: No fixed deadline for paying beneficiaries, although there are other deadlines to meet during the probate process, such as giving the probate court an inventory of the estate’s assets within 90 days

    North Carolina State Bar – Legal Assistance for Military Personnel. All About Probate. Accessed Nov 20, 2023.

  • Florida: All estates must be open for at least three months in order to give creditors time to come forward with claims on the estate. Simple estates may settle within five or six months

  • New Jersey: No deadline to pay beneficiaries, but tangible personal property must be distributed “as soon as practical” and specific bequests must be distributed within a year “if feasible” to avoid interest

If you’re unsure about probate timelines where you live, it makes sense to contact a reputable estate lawyer or your district’s probate court.

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Why does it take so long to get paid?

Although specific probate timeline laws vary from state to state, paying beneficiaries is typically one of the last things an executor must do. Depending on your state, before paying the beneficiaries, an executor may have to:

  • File a petition with the court to be officially appointed as executor if probate is required.

  • File an estate inventory with the court.

  • Notify banks, creditors and relevant government agencies (such as Social Security) of the person’s death.

  • If required, appear in court on behalf of the estate.

  • Open a bank account to pay the estate’s ongoing bills during probate.

  • Maintain the deceased person’s property until it’s sold or distributed.

  • Pay the deceased person’s debts and taxes.

What if the executor is taking too long?

An executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries

Cornell University Legal Information Institute. Executor. Accessed Nov 20, 2023.


Carrying out all these responsibilities can take some time. Exceeding deadlines to pay beneficiaries (if there are such deadlines in place in a particular state) may result in the executor having to pay interest to the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries who feel an executor is hiding assets or acting dishonestly have a number of options. Talking with the executor and requesting access to documents, an estate inventory and probate progress is often a good place to start, because open communication may help avoid legal action.

If reaching out to the executor doesn’t produce results, you can work with an estate lawyer and file a petition with the court to request certain actions, including:

  • Requiring a full accounting of the estate from the executor.

  • Requiring the executor to obtain a bond to protect estate assets.

  • Requiring the executor to reverse a transaction if he or she stole assets from the estate.

  • Fining the executor for stealing from the estate.

  • Reducing or denying executor compensation.

  • Criminally prosecuting the executor.

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