How Long Does it Take to Settle an Estate?

From a snail-paced executor to being at the mercy of the Courts, settling an estate can take time. Here’s why.
How Long Does it Take to Settle an Estate?

Settling an estate can also be referred to as ‘the probate process’. This is an important step in distributing the assets of a deceased person. Look – ideally, it would take approximately 6-9 months to settle an estate… However, sometimes there are variables and circumstances beyond our control that delay the process. And hey – it’s not uncommon for an estate settlement process to take many months (or even years).

Whether you’re a beneficiary or the executor of an estate, knowing the approximate time frame of this process can help you plan for the future. 

Settling an estate: the step-by-step process

There are 6 steps to take when settling an estate.

  1. Appointing the executor, whose main responsibility is to ensure that the deceased person’s estate is managed and distributed as stipulated in their Will. 
  2. Applying for a grant of probate (or letters of administration where no Will exists).
  3. The executor will need to notify all beneficiaries and creditors of the probate application.
  4. The executor will need to find and collect all of the deceased’s assets (like property, investments and personal possessions) and have them valued.
  5. The executor will need to pay off any existing debts and handle all taxes for the deceased person.
  6. The executor will need to distribute assets to the beneficiaries, as written in the Will. In the case of no Will, their assets would be according to the rules of intestacy.

Once these 6 steps are completed, the estate is considered ‘settled’ and the executor’s job is done. Tick!

Factors that affect how long it takes to settle an estate

There are a handful of factors that could affect the amount of time it takes to settle an estate. These could include:

A large estate

When an estate is large and has many different types of assets (like property, businesses and investments), it can take more time to manage and distribute everything properly. Additionally, if the estate includes assets in several jurisdictions, this can make it even more complicated, as different laws and regulations could apply.

The number of beneficiaries

Multiple beneficiaries mean it could take longer to distribute the assets among them. Plus, if the beneficiaries live in different parts of the country (or the world), this could tack on more time.


Ah, the second D-word we all love to ignore (the other being death, duh!) Disputes can and do happen, more often than you know. They can pop up all over the place – among beneficiaries, between beneficiaries and the executor, and so on … and they’re not above slowing down the process.

The diligence of the executor

Organisation and efficiency is the mark of a good executor. Got a snail-paced or disorganised executor? Expect slooooooower progress. 

Missing tax deadlines

The executor will need to make sure that all relevant tax returns are filed for the deceased estate, and that any outstanding debts are paid on time. Not doing so can lead to legal complications as well as delays. Ugh.

A break in the chain of representation

If an Executor dies before they complete the administration of an estate, the Executor they have appointed for their estate will be tasked with completing the executorial duties for the original estate - that's the chain of representation. This in itself can cause delays. However, if the Executor dies intestate, then there are likely to be even more delays while the courts decide how to proceed.


Due to well, the nature of probate, it can take its sweet time. A few things can factor into this, such as a complex Will with many requirements, differing state or territory laws, or obtaining the Court’s approval of a Will, which can take up to several months. Yikes – we know. 

Wrap up

Probate is a vital step in managing an estate after someone passes away. Since no Will or estate plan looks the same, the length of time it takes to receive a grant of probate can differ. Yes – the estate settlement process could potentially take weeks, but it can also take months or even years depending on the complexity of the Will, and whether or not there are unforeseeable delays. The best way through is with the help of a solicitor or a lawyer who specialises in this area of the law.

Need help with probate? The legal team at Willed Law are experts. Call us today on 1300 945 533.

Keen to get organised? Start writing your Will and planning your estate online today.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, accounting or tax advice.

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