Estate Planning 101

How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in New Mexico

In this article, we'll look at how long an Executor has to settle an estate in New Mexico. 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'.)
September 13, 2023

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The process of settling an estate, known as probate, is a serious responsibility entrusted to an executor or personal representative. In New Mexico, this involves several steps including validating the deceased's will, inventorying their assets, paying off any debts and taxes, and eventually, distributing the remaining assets to the designated beneficiaries. Given the various tasks involved, many wonder how long an executor has to settle an estate in New Mexico. While the timeframe can vary significantly, it generally takes anywhere from several months to over a year, depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the estate, the clarity of the will, and whether or not the probate process is contested.

The Estate Settlement Timeline:

Settling an estate in New Mexico consists of several stages, each with its own general timeframe. Here, we'll break down each stage to provide a clearer understanding of the typical timeline:

  1. Submitting the Will: In New Mexico, the executor is required to submit the will to the probate court as soon as reasonably possible after the death of the testator (the person who made the will). While New Mexico law does not specify a strict deadline for this step, it is generally recommended to do so within a month to ensure a timely start to the probate process.
  2. Inventorying the Estate: The next step involves the executor compiling a comprehensive inventory of the deceased's assets. This includes real estate, personal possessions, bank accounts, investments, and any 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 New Mexico, the executor typically has three months from the date of their appointment to complete this inventory and submit it to the court.
  3. Communicating with Creditors: Once the inventory is complete, the executor must then notify all known creditors of the deceased's passing. In New Mexico, creditors have a window of three months from the date of their notification to make claims against the estate for any debts owed.
  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: After notifying the creditors, the executor is responsible for paying off any valid claims using the estate's assets. This includes settling any final income taxes or estate taxes owed. This process can take from 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 is distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will. This can only be done after all debts and taxes have been paid. If there are no disputes among the beneficiaries, this step can be completed relatively quickly, often within a few weeks.

Remember, these timelines are general estimates and can vary based on individual circumstances. For instance, if a will is contested, the probate process can be delayed by months or even years. Also, if the estate is particularly large or complex, it may take longer to inventory and distribute the assets. While it's the executor's duty to settle the estate as quickly and efficiently as possible, the process often requires a great deal of patience and diligence.

How Do You Know When an Estate is Settled:

An estate is usually considered settled when the executor has completed all necessary tasks: the will has been submitted to the probate court, the estate has been thoroughly inventoried, all creditors have been notified and paid, any taxes owed have been settled, and the remaining assets have been distributed according to the will. Beneficiaries should receive a final accounting from the executor, which is a document that details all of the financial transactions made on behalf of the estate.

In New Mexico, 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 duties. Upon approval of this petition, the estate is officially considered settled. This final confirmation ensures beneficiaries that the estate settlement process has been completed.

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

While it's true that 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, have concerns about this, there are actions you can take. Start by communicating your concerns with the executor – they may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the delays. If communication doesn't resolve the issue, you are within your rights 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, New Mexico 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 considered a last resort, as it can further complicate and delay the estate settlement process. It is always recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney before taking this action.