When someone creates a last will and testament, he will often name an executor, which is an individual responsible for managing the deceased person's estate during probate and distributing property to his heirs. The laws governing the activities of executors and the length of the probate process differ by state.
It is the executor's job to locate and manage all of the deceased person's property until his affairs are settled. The executor is responsible for filing for probate, reporting periodically to the probate court, paying debts and taxes, completing paperwork for the estate and distributing property to heirs. The executor typically must also terminate lease contracts and notify government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, of the death.
Some states, such as Texas, require the executor to file for probate within a certain time. Other states, such as New York, don't publish a time limit. Most states suggest that the probate process be complete within three to four years of the date of death. The time required to complete probate once the executor files differs based on the complexity of the estate and actions of the executor and heirs.
Once the executor files for probate, he must use assets from the estate to pay the deceased person's creditors and any applicable estate taxes. Most states require executors to inform creditors that the estate is in probate and allow them several months to make claims against the estate for unpaid debts. If the executor distributes assets before paying creditors, he will be held liable for unpaid debts, so executors usually won't distribute anything until creditors have had time to make claims.
Distribution of property to heirs won't take place until probate is complete. If the heirs believe that the executor isn't moving quickly enough, they can file a request with the probate court for a report of the estate's progress. If the executor chooses not to file a report or if the report shows that the executor isn't acting responsibly, the court may remove him from office.