Estate Planning 101

How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in Montana

In this article, we'll look at how long an Executor has to settle an estate in Montana. We'll look at the milestones and due dates, as well as factors that impact timelines and how to know when an estate is officially 'settled'.)
October 6, 2023

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The process of settling an estate, commonly known as probate, involves a considerable amount of responsibility and diligence from the assigned executor. In the state of Montana, this includes several steps such as submitting the will to the probate court, inventorying the deceased's assets, settling any debts or taxes, and finally, distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. Given the intricate nature of these tasks, one commonly asked question is: how long does an executor have to settle an estate in Montana? The timeline can vary significantly, typically ranging from several months to over a year, depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the estate, the specifics of the will, and whether or not the probate process is contested.

The Estate Settlement Timeline:

Settling an estate in Montana involves several stages, each with its own general timeline. Here, we'll break down each stage to provide a clearer understanding of how long the entire process might take:

  1. Submitting the Will: In Montana, the executor, also known as the personal representative, is required to submit the will to probate court as soon as reasonably possible after the death of the testator (the person who made the will). While Montana law does not specify a strict deadline for this step, it is generally best to do so within a month to prevent unnecessary delays in the probate process.
  2. Inventorying the Estate: Once the will has been submitted, the executor must then compile a comprehensive inventory of the deceased's assets, which includes real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, investments, and other assets of value. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In Montana, the executor is typically given two months from the date of their appointment to submit this inventory to the court.
  3. Communicating with Creditors: After the inventory has been completed, the executor is then responsible for notifying all known creditors of the deceased's passing. In Montana, creditors are given a window of four months from the date of their notification to make claims against the estate for any debts owed.
  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: The executor must then pay off any valid claims from the estate's assets. This process also involves settling any final income taxes or estate taxes owed by the deceased. This step can easily take a few months to over a year, depending on the number of claims and the state of the deceased's financial affairs.
  5. Distributing the Remaining Assets: The final step in the estate settlement process involves distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will. This can only be done once all debts and taxes have been settled. If there are no disputes among the beneficiaries regarding the distribution of assets, this step can be completed relatively quickly, often within a few weeks.

Remember, these timelines are merely estimates and can vary significantly based on individual circumstances. For instance, if a will is contested, the probate process can be delayed by months or even years. Similarly, if the estate is large or complex, it may take longer to inventory and distribute the assets. While an executor is expected to settle the estate as efficiently and promptly as possible, the process often requires a substantial amount of patience and diligence.

How Do You Know When an Estate is Settled:

An estate is considered settled when the executor has completed a series of tasks, including submitting the will to probate court, inventorying the estate, notifying and paying off creditors, settling any taxes owed, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as per the will. Beneficiaries should receive a final accounting from the executor, which is a document detailing all of the financial transactions made on behalf of the estate.

In Montana, once this final accounting is reviewed and approved by the probate court, the executor can file a “petition for discharge”, which officially releases them from their responsibilities. Upon approval of this petition, the estate is officially considered settled. This final confirmation assures beneficiaries that the estate settlement process has been completed.

What to Do If You Think The Executor Is Taking Too Long:

While settling an estate can be a lengthy process, there may be instances when an executor is not fulfilling their duties in a timely or efficient manner. If you, as a beneficiary, believe this to be the case, there are steps you can take. Begin by communicating your concerns with the executor – they may be able to provide a valid explanation for the delays. If communication does not resolve the issue, you have the right to request an accounting of the estate – a report detailing the financial actions taken by the executor on behalf of the estate.

If you're still unsatisfied after these steps, Montana law allows beneficiaries to petition the probate court for the removal and replacement of an executor who is not adequately performing their duties. This should be seen as a last resort, as it can further complicate and delay the estate settlement process. As always, it is recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney before taking this action.