How Probate Works. A Guide for Executors, Heirs, and Families.

E272 What Happens to Personal Effects When Someone Dies?


Sometimes the small personal effects can have a big impact. It may be the irreplaceable keys to the loft, the invaluable smartphone, or treasured photos in the wallet.

What are personal effects?

What are personal effects?

They are usually personal property; items of particular significance that are carried or worn. These can be wallets, jewelry, phone, keys, etc. Items above a certain value, like a diamond engagement ring, fall into a different category.

If she died in a care facility?

Sadly, more often than not, some personal property will go missing at a care facility. It’s a sad indictment of humans everywhere. When a lot of people pass through a patient’s hospital room (EMTs, nurses, doctors, visitors, janitors, etc.), there is bound to be a set of sticky fingers with no way to figure out who did it.

If she died in a care facility?

Personal property sitting on a patient’s nightstand is an easy grab. The thief may not be a habitual thief but could simply be a person who sees a crime of opportunity. We’ve had this happen in many of our estates, sadly. The family knows that their loved one had a piece of jewelry at the care facility, and now it’s gone. Heirs understandably get mad, and there is not much anyone can do. Unfortunately, this is something below the district attorney’s radar and is typically hard to prove.

If she died at home?

In New York, when someone dies in their home, the police come and put up yellow police tape. You then need Letters Testamentary to enter. The police search the home for personal effects and put them into the evidence room at the police precinct. So, if you do get into the home and can’t find something, check the police precinct.

If she died at home?

Also, the police purge non-cash valuables within 1 year. They can’t hold things forever, or they will run out of room. If you are looking for the decedent’s keys or special photos, etc., you need to get to the precinct as soon as you can. A year may sound long, but time seems to go fast when you’re probating an estate. Sometimes it can take a year to get Letters Testamentary, so you need to move fast!

Be aware that you will need to find the correct police precinct. We had an estate where we thought the personal effects were at the local precinct, but they were stored at the main one.

This sounds like a pain, but at least the police secure the property and there is a paper trail of what they found.

If you want to learn more about how probate works in general, don’t forget to check out my book, “How Probate Works,” available on Amazon.

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E269 Business Valuation During Probate

E269 Business Valuation During Probate


Business valuation is tricky even under the best circumstances. And the probate process adds a few more twists.

Not turnkey

Not turnkey

The first twist is that you are probably not selling a turn-key business. Some people come to us with valuation approaches such as 1) Comparables (what similar businesses have sold for in the area) and 2) Discretionary income (meaning, what sort of income does this business throws off, multiplied by the number of years you expect to earn that).

Both approaches assume the business is fully operational, which isn’t always the case when the owner has passed away. You can’t use the grocery store where the owner is alive and running it as a comparable to the store in the midst of chaos since the owner passed.

In probate, the business often stops upon owner’s death. Even if the business doesn’t stop, the quality of the business tends to head downhill. People usually notice when the business isn’t run by the owner anymore. It’s kind of like an “inmates running the asylum” type of situation… Not great for business, and therefore not great for the valuation of the business.

Buyers typically want to step into a seamless, ongoing operation. With a probate business, the buyer is not purchasing an ongoing business, but rather has to re-jumpstart a business that may have been temporarily closed for months. The buyer can’t walk into the restaurant and be open for business the next day with the menu ready to go.

No keyman

No key man

Without a keyman, the business doesn’t work. The keyman is so crucial to a business that you can buy “keyman insurance” in case he passes away. When a small business loses its keyman, it loses a lot.

First, there is no transfer of knowledge. If you buy a business from a living owner/operator, he can tell you the tips and tricks of the business. These tips are unlikely documented anywhere, just things that the owner knows.

Second, there are no relationships with customers. Without the owner, maybe some of the best customers don’t come anymore. There are no relationships with vendors who give the business a good deal. They may want to reset their prices and not give the new owner a grandfathered-in deal. Additionally, if the owner/operator doesn’t own the property, the quality of the relationship with the landlord is huge for determining the value of the business. Without a lease, there is no business. Also, since the landlord doesn’t know the new owner, he may want to renegotiate the lease.

Lastly, the keyman is important because valuation is sometimes based on discretionary income (the amount of income the business throws off). Small businesses don’t necessarily report on paper all that they earn. How can the seller convey to the buyer what the business is actually worth – the real income? That conversation between seller and buyer often happens when no brokers or lawyers are present. If the owner passed away, there is no side discussion of actual discretionary income. Without that conversation, is almost impossible to value the business based on discretionary income.

Rapidly declining value

Rapidly declining value

In probate, a non-operational business rapidly declines in value.

First, inventory may be expiring and rotting with every passing day. This is assuming that in the absence of the owner, the business ceases to function or functions poorly.

If the business closes for a couple weeks or months, that may not feel like a long time to an heir who has never run a business. But that is enough time for its most loyal customers to find a new favorite store. Not only that, but closed businesses attract theft and vandalism. A closed business is an easy target for a crime of opportunity.

Lastly, even while the business is non-operational, it is still bleeding expenses (rent, security, taxes, utilities) while no revenue is coming in.

For those reasons, the faster you sell in probate, the better in order to keep the value from falling farther. The longer the business sits, the more money it loses. We have experience in this area and have seen these scenarios first-hand.

If you want to learn more about how probate works, please check out my book, “How Probate Works,” available on Amazon. If you are dealing with a situation like this, please feel free to reach out to me.

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E265 Late Probate 40 Years After Death

E265 Late Probate 40 Years After Death


What happens during a late probate, meaning you don’t begin the probate process until many years after death? In a recent case, we probated an estate 40 years after death. This case study shows just a few problems with late probate.

Creditors get impatient

Creditors get impatient

Creditors are usually patient, and they understand that when someone first passes, they won’t get the decedent’s money immediately. Once the creditors know that the estate is opened and the attorney is involved, they sit tight for a bit.

BUT, if it’s been a decade – or four in this case – they understandably get impatient. Creditors need someone to sue to get their money; they can’t sue a dead person. If no one is appointed as executor, then there is no one to drag into court. Eventually, if the heirs don’t probate, then creditors will ask the court to appoint someone (usually the Public Administrator, a court-appointed stranger) to be executor/administrator. The creditors aren’t going to request that an heir be appointed; it will be a court-appointed person who has no relationship to the estate.

Multi-generational probates

If you wait decades to probate, then you will likely end up with multi-generational probate. As time lapses, more people will pass away.

Multi-generational probates

For example, granddad passed away 40 years ago, and no one probated his estate. Eventually, his kids and grandkids will pass away too. Granddad died in 1970 and was survived by five sons at the time. Since then, two of the sons and even some grandsons have passed away.

In this situation, courts will usually require you probate in reverse: starting with the grandsons’ estates, then the sons’, then you will be allowed to probate granddad’s estate. Why? Granddad’s estate requires someone to represent the interest of his five sons. But, if two sons died, there is no one to represent those sons. Someone needs to be appointed for the deceased sons’ estates. But, if those sons had sons (grandsons of the granddad) who passed away, then you can’t set up the two sons’ estates until you set up the grandsons’ estates.

That’s why you have to work backwards: you set up the grandsons’ estates, which allows you to set up the sons’ estates, which allows you to set up granddad’s estate. If this all sounds like a mess – it is.

We get calls from grandkids who haven’t probated; they just keep living in the grandparent’s home after his passing. But now the grandkids want to sell the home and they don’t realize the amount of work ahead of them. A lot can happen in 40 years. In this case, it took a week’s worth of emails and phone calls just to figure out who is who in the family tree.

Tenants get too comfy and won’t leave

If tenants stay in the decedent’s property even for a year, they get very comfortable living there. They are used to staying in the house without rent increases and act as if it is their own place. The tenants generally do not want to leave. This is true of both family members of the decedent and also unrelated tenants.

Tenants get too comfy and won’t leave

If the tenants act like this after a year or two, imagine if the tenants have stayed in the house for decades. Because they have been maintaining the home for decades, they get upset when an executor comes in and tells them that they have to pay more rent or leave.

We’ve highlighted three of the problems that can happen if an estate is probated late, especially after 40 years. These are problems that can be fixed but be ready to have a lot of patience through the process.

If you want to learn more about how probate works, check out my book on Amazon, “How Probate Works.”

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E261 How to Close on Sale of Business in Probate

E261 How to Close on Sale of Business in Probate


Hurray, you’re finally in contract and ready to close on the sale of the estate’s business. You already did all the hard work preparing to sell the business, now make sure you cross the finish line and close the sale properly.

Maintain status quo until sold

Maintain status quo until sold

Make sure you maintain your insurance payments. In the rare chance that there is a slip and fall accident between the time your insurance lapses and the closing occurs, it will be your problem.

Maintain your security plan, whether it’s an alarm system or driving by to check on the place. We have had an attempted burglary in one of our situations. It’s like the burglars have a sixth sense that the owner passed away and that the building is not well-attended. They notice that there are no cars or customers coming and going from the business.

Keep up to date with all of the business vendors. If the business is not operational, let the vendors know not to come by anymore. You don’t want boxes of inventory stacked up, just like you don’t want piles of mail stacked up outside of a decedent’s home. It’s pretty obvious that the place is vacant if no one takes the items inside.

Allow buyer’s final inspections

Allow buyer’s final inspections

Make sure that the lease is transferable. The buyer may need to have an introduction with the landlord to make sure they get along and agree on new terms.

Even if you provide a fully audited inventory of the estate assets, sometimes buyers want to do their own inventory. Cash registers, coolers, machinery, the condition of the parking lot – the buyer will want to see these for himself. Sometimes you can’t capture the condition of these types of things in a report or photographs.

Transfer all paperwork

Transfer all paperwork

While most of the paperwork happens at closing, some paperwork needs to be put in motion ahead of time. For example, making sure that the buyer can take over the lease from the landlord.

There may be a whole bureaucratic process to make sure the buyer gets the necessary licenses and permits to operate the business. Maybe it’s a permit to have a cafe on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant or obtaining a liquor license.

Think you’re done? Not quite. Even if you’ve sold and liquidated the business assets, you probably still need to wind down or dissolve the corporation and business bank accounts. You probably did the sale in the form of an asset sale (meaning, the buyer bought the stuff), and not a sale of the corporate stock. The estate is now left with an empty corporate entity. Dissolving the corporation involves getting certain tax clearances, notifying the Department of State, emptying business accounts, and notifying the IRS with a corporate tax return.

It’s a long process, but it has to be done.  We’ll cover this in a future episode, but please comment below if you have questions or comments in the meantime.

If you want to learn more about how probate works, check out my book on Amazon, “How Probate Works.”

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E257 How IRS Processing Delays Are Slowing Down Probate

E257 How IRS Processing Delays Are Slowing Down Probate


Probate is already a slow process, and recent IRS processing delays are making probate even slower.

Most probate cases must receive IRS tax clearance in order to close the estate. Otherwise, the executor and heirs are at risk for lingering tax problems and getting hit with unexpected tax bills later. Once the heirs understand this, they are fine with taking the time to close the estate properly!

The Taxpayer Advocate is a government entity whose job is to oversee and review the performance of the IRS. The Taxpayer Advocate’s recent annual report https://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/reports/2021-annual-report-to-congress/ breaks down the extent of the IRS delays, why we can’t get any answers, and what to expect this year.

We are in the frustrating position where we have to tell clients repeatedly that we are “waiting on the IRS.” Hopefully this blog helps to clarify the situation.

Is the IRS having processing delays?

Is the IRS having processing delays?

“Delays” an understatement. The following are quotes from Taxpayer Advocate’s sub-report: ”PROCESSING AND REFUND DELAYS: Excessive Processing and Refund Delays Harm Taxpayers https://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/ARC21_MSP_01_Processing-Delays.pdf

  1. “At the close of the 2021 filing season, the IRS had 3 million returns awaiting manual processing
  2. “As the IRS is preparing to begin the 2022 filing season, it is poised to carry over millions of unprocessed returns and millions of pieces of taxpayer correspondence, resulting in even longer delays for taxpayers who have been patiently waiting for far too long”
  3. “Taxpayers who have filed their tax returns continue to wait, and wait, and wait for any update from the IRS”

These direct quotes match our experience without a doubt. It can take months to get any response from the IRS. We even include a copy of our letter with a pre-paid envelope and simply ask them to stamp the copy and mail it back to us. In years past, it only took a few weeks to receive our stamped copy. Now, it’s taking them months to just open the letter.

When we do finally get a response, it’s often a punt: just a letter saying they need six more months to a year to respond. Even worse, when we finally get a real response, sometimes it’s incorrect. So, if there’s an issue (even a non-problem, IRS mistake), it resets the clock, and we have to wait another 6 months or more for the IRS to look at it again.

Can I contact the IRS for a status update?

Can I contact the IRS for a status update

Clients naturally ask if we or they can call the IRS for an update or timeline. It is very unlikely.

From Taxpayer Advocate’s sub-report: “TELEPHONE AND IN-PERSON SERVICE: Taxpayers Face Significant Challenges Reaching IRS Representatives Due to Longstanding Deficiencies and Pandemic Complications https://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/ARC21_MSP_03_Telephone.pdf

  1. “In 2021 the IRS received 282M phone calls. Customer service representatives only answered 32M (11%.)
  2. “A taxpayer contacted by the IRS regarding her deceased mother’s return was told to call in but has been trying unsuccessfully for over a year to get through to the IRS”
  3. IRS aims to respond to taxpayer correspondence in 45 days. As of Jan 1 their turnaround time is nearly 1 year”

In our experience, we don’t even have the 11% chance of talking to someone. We deal mostly with estates, which are a higher level of complexity than a standard tax filing. We are not going to get a call back from a customer service agent; we have to wait for our file to get to a higher-level agent or even an IRS attorney. So, yes, over one year for ANY sort of letter or reply sounds accurate!

Will IRS processing and communication improve?

Will IRS processing and communication improve?

This is unlikely; the IRS has a big hole to dig out of. The IRS didn’t complete processing all 2019 returns until June 2021, “Thus, the unprecedented processing and refund delays taxpayers experienced in 2021 could be as bad, and potentially worse, in 2022.”

We can only hope that our client’s files are at the top of the 35.3 million pile. Please know, we are waiting along with you, and we’re frustrated, too. Unfortunately, we’re all in the same boat. In our experience, no one wants to try to close the estate without the tax clearance and bear the risk of the IRS coming after them.

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E254 Best Renovations to do Before Selling Probate Real Estate

E254 Best Renovations to do Before Selling Probate Real Estate


Selling probate real estate can be tough because properties are usually out of date, very “lived-in,” and attract discount buyers.

Here are a few minimum renovations and repairs that executors should consider in order to receive a flow of serious buyers, without spending too much in estate funds.

1. Clean out the clutter

Clean out the clutter

Cleaning out clutter is more expensive than people realize. For example, cleaning out a one-bedroom apartment in the Manhattan area will cost between $1,500 and $2,500 for several cleaners/movers, a truck, and a dumpster.

Though cleaning out is expensive, it is a MUST. It’s very difficult to sell a home with the deceased person’s belongings everywhere. Do your best to get the home at least broom-clean or better. Even buyers looking for a sweet deal aren’t really excited to clean up someone else’s mess so that they can move in.

You’ll probably need to pack and ship some items to heirs anyway, so cleaning out the place completely just makes sense.

2. That fresh paint smell

That fresh paint smell

We’ve seen so many homes with outdated colors or tones. We have one right now with blood-red colored walls. Though certain colors may have been popular at one time, you need a neutral color like beige, light gray, or white to sell a home. Don’t try to get fancy with different shades of the same color. We had a house with at least eight different shades peach freshly painted throughout, and it was not appealing! Give the buyers a blank canvas to work with and let them pick their own colors.

Don’t use wallpaper –  stick with paint.

Besides being aesthetically pleasing, a fresh coat of paint can help reduce odors. To put it bluntly, most probate properties smell like the person who lived there. Again, give the buyer a blank canvas that smells fresh.

3. Let there be light!

Let there be light!

For some reason, really “lived-in” places seem to feel dark. Maybe there are too many curtains, or the windows haven’t been cleaned.

Most realtors will say that maximizing the light very important. You can do this by updating all of the lightbulbs to LED lights (which is a cheap fix, by the way!). It is also good to wash and fix the windows, if feasible (this may not be so easy in a high-rise building). You may want to consider getting rid of curtains to brighten the place. Additionally, getting rid of curtains can reduce odors trapped in the fabric.

4. Refresh the floors

Refresh the floors

You don’t need to do a full reflooring, as this can be quite expensive. Just replace or remove the carpet. If you find hardwood floors under the carpet, leave it exposed. People tend to like hardwood floors. Sanding and refinishing old wood floors is way cheaper than putting new flooring in. If you have to put carpet in, choose a light, neutral color.

5. Minimum bathroom updates

Minimum bathroom updates

Bathroom updates can get expensive, but there are some minimum updates you can do to maximize its appearance. Don’t replace the tub, just re-caulk it. You should consider replacing the vanity, as it is fairly inexpensive and easy to install. Many old vanities have stained outlines of where pill bottles and other items sat.

It is also beneficial to update the showerhead and the fixtures. You can go to any hardware store and pick up inexpensive, shiny, updated fixtures. The $50 spent to replace a leaky shower head with a fancier one, will be worth it to help the home sell.

If there are enough funds and the heirs agree to use the estate funds, then you can make costlier updates. However, I assume that most heirs want to maximize their inheritance and just get the home sold. Besides, you don’t know what taste the buyers will have. You might spend a lot of money on updates that look good to you, and the buyer ends up ripping it out to suit their own style.

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E246 How to Collect MTA COVID19 Death Benefit

E246 How to Collect the MTA COVID19 Death Benefit


Did you know that heirs of Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) workers who died of COVID19 may receive a $500,000 death benefit?

When I first heard of this, I thought it was a scam. But, yes, this is real! We’ve helped families collect this benefit. Here’s how:

Who qualifies for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?

Who qualifies for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?

Any MTA employee who died of COVID19 qualifies. The MTA has already paid out over $62,000,000, which means at least 140 employees have passed away from COVID 19.

How to apply for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?

How to apply for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?

An heir can’t just apply as family member of the decedent (we’ve been hired by families that have tried). You must set up an estate and get a court-appointed executor or administrator. That court-appointed person is who must apply. An administrator is appointed for an estate without a will, and an executor is appointed for an estate with a will.

Be sure to choose wisely who you want to fill that role, because once that person is appointed, they need to know how to work with the MTA to get the claim pushed through.

It’s not easy like submitting a life insurance claim. This kind of death benefit claim is new. Anytime you are dealing with something new involving a bureaucracy, you need some force of will to get it done. From personal experience, getting the MTA death benefit can be a long, drawn-out process involving numerous emails and long hold times on the phone. But, with the right team pushing through, we have had successful outcomes for our clients.

When will the MTA COVID19 death benefit end?

When will the MTA COVID19 death benefit end?

As of this writing, it is currently extended through December 21, 2021. It could last longer, but we don’t know yet.

If you lost a loved one who was an MTA employee, you should apply for this benefit as soon as you have opened the estate. Sooner is better than later. Why? Because the MTA seems to be tightening the qualifications, making it harder to qualify. For example, an unvaccinated employee is no longer eligible. The MTA is also taking a closer look at the cause of death (did the employee die directly from COVID 19, or something else?).

Be aware: getting a court-appointed executor or administrator currently takes a few months or longer. So, start now. If you call us today to open an estate, it could be early spring before the court appoints a representative for the estate. The courts are very backed up and short-staffed.

This was a very specific blog about a specific benefit, but it is important to know about it if you think you may qualify.

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E243 Heir Won’t Leave the House

E243 Heir Won’t Leave the House


When one of the heirs won’t leave the family home, what can you do? It’s a pretty common situation. For example, mom passes away leaving three adult children. One adult son was living with her when she passed away, and he doesn’t want to leave.

Why heir won’t leave

Why heir won’t leave

The top reason is pretty straightforward: it’s like having free or reduced rent. Sometimes there’s the feeling of entitlement. As in, “I was the one taking care of mom during her last years, so what’s the big deal if I stay in the house?”

Then, there’s that litany of “dog ate my homework” type of excuses: I have an injury and can’t move right now; I don’t want to move my kids in the middle of the school year; I’m too busy to deal with a move, etc. We’re not saying these excuses are justifiable, we’re just saying that we’ve heard it all!

Can you evict an heir?

The short answer is yes, but it is an uphill battle. Evictions generally tough. You deal with notice requirements, assumptions that tenants have rights, extensions, etc. It could take many months to years to evict a tenant in a normal situation. Add to that, the complication that the heir is partial owner. In our example where mom passed away with three surviving children, that adult son is still an heir to one-third of the estate, even if he leaves the home. So, now it’s psychologically more than just evicting a tenant, it’s evicting a one-third owner.

Can you evict an heir?

In addition to a frustrating situation, evicting your sibling is probably pretty awkward! (“Happy Thanksgiving, sister; pass the turkey. And oh, yeah – here’s your eviction notice”). A situation like this can devastate families. A professional tip to avoid the awkwardness is to use someone else as the “bad guy,” such as a realtor or professional executor. If the home is a condo or part of a homeowner’s association, maybe make a call to the manager to discuss the eviction. If this works, it can save a lot of money in legal fees. The quicker the eviction is taken care of, the less money wasted. It’s expensive to let someone reside in a home for “free.”

How to buy out heirs

How to buy out heirs

More often than you’d think, the resolution is to pay the heir to leave. It doesn’t feel great to pay someone who is supposed to leave anyway but take a look at the cost-benefit analysis. It might be cheaper than the headaches, legal fees, mortgage payments, etc. As much as you might not want to pay him, it’s probably the best solution. It could also make those Thanksgiving dinners less tense!

Paying an heir to leave doesn’t mean you have to start with the highest number. Maybe start by offering to pay for the moving costs. Then offer more, as needed, until he actually leaves.

This is where having a professional executor comes in handy – he or she can do the awkward work for you. If you are interested in learning more, check out my book on Amazon, “How to Hire an Executor.”

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E241 What is a Probate Reserve?


Think it’s over? Even when most of probate is complete, the executor must hold a reserve.

Why keep a reserve?

Why keep a reserve?

Think of it as a rainy-day fund: An amount of money that the executor holds on to in order to pay unexpected expenses. Even after more than a year, unexpected things pop up – even with experienced attorneys involved. It’s impossible to have full certainty of what the final bills are for the estate without waiting a bit. Creditors, taxes, and accompanying legal/accounting fees can be a big deal. If the executor has no money left in the account, it’s not a good scenario.

In Episode 239, we discussed this exact situation. Our client was an executor. He didn’t take our advice to wait for the full tax clearance. Since he didn’t wait and distributed the money to the heirs, they were shocked and horrified to later receive an unexpected tax bill for over $20,000. This put the executor in a tough situation where he either had to ask for money back from the heirs or pay it out of pocket.

We had another case where the hospital creditors sued the executor for an unpaid medical bill. In this case, the lawsuit was frivolous. The hospital didn’t formalize their claim, and they were barred by the statute of limitations from being paid. They sued anyway, and the executor had to hire an attorney to defend the estate in court.

There was also a case where, long after the estate had been closed, an alleged “son” emerged and sued the estate for his share. The executor had to go through litigation to find out whether this really was the decedent’s son. Obviously, he needed money to pay for legal defense.

If you ever run into these situations, and you have a reserve, you’ll be very thankful!

How much is kept in reserve?

How much is kept in reserve?

There is no set number, but it is a balancing act. The amount must be big enough for the executor to feel comfortable that he won’t run out of money in a bad situation.

But the amount should not be too big, as you want to get as much money as possible out of your hands and to the heirs. The executor is a conduit, not an investment advisor. As professional executors, we take a lot of things into account when determining the reserve amount. It’s an art and a science!

When to release the reserve?

When to release the reserve?

Usually, it takes about a year to close an estate, and we hold a couple thousand in reserve. About one to two years after the estate is closed, we usually feel comfortable releasing the reserve. That should be enough time for any unknowns to shake out. However, even with the best planning, something could come up ten years from now. That is why I have attorney’s insurance for these kinds of situations.

In general, the statute of limitations is between three and six years. If the estate took one and a half years to close and you hold the money another one and a half years, then you’ll have more certainty that it’s time to release the reserve to the heirs. Sometimes heirs don’t mind getting the reserve later, because that second payment feels like a bonus.

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E239 Why Does Probate Tax Clearance Take So Long

E239 Why Does Probate Tax Clearance Take So Long?


Waiting for tax clearance is often the biggest delay in closing an estate. We’ll explain why tax clearance is so important and why it takes so long.

Why tax clearance is so important

Why tax clearance is so important

No one wants IRS problems under any circumstances. In estates, the IRS is a top priority creditor. They need to get paid before anyone else gets paid. It’s important to know the final figures for the IRS before distributing to the other creditors and heirs.

If the IRS is not paid properly, the IRS will come after the executor and heirs later. In order to be paid, they will come after whoever has the money, which can include the heirs who received an incorrect distribution. The executor can also be held personally liable.

Let’s say you are the executor, and you neglect to pay the taxes properly. You cut the checks to the heirs and six months later the IRS says you owe another $50,000. Imagine asking heirs to give back some money to pay taxes. Those heirs are not going to return your phone calls no matter the amount of money owed.

Must file final returns to get started

Must file final returns to get started

Sometimes it is hard to get the decedent’s final paperwork in order to make that final filing. It’s happened to us many times. We know there’s another W-2 or 1099 out there to finalize the return, but we don’t have them. If we’re missing documents, we have to request them from banks and other financial institutions. This process can take weeks, or even months, because these bureaucracies are not used to dealing with non-everyday situations like death. We often get shuffled around among different departments to get what we need.

Even worse, sometimes we have to request missing information from the IRS. This process can be brutally long. It takes a whole year just to get the tax clearance from the IRS. Imagine trying to request just one piece of paper. The IRS is overworked, and they don’t answer the phone. You end up filling out and submitting forms, then play the waiting game.

Sometimes filing the final tax return isn’t final. Even after filing the decedent’s 1040, from time to time you need ANOTHER filing (1041) to confirm that there are no capital gains on the sale of the decedent’s home.

Last bite at the apple

Last bite at the apple

This is the IRS’s last chance to get money out of the decedent. Once the tax return is filed, the IRS takes a LONG time to review it and give a final answer. They know that this is their last opportunity to collect from this taxpayer. They examine a decedent’s return way more thoroughly than a living person’s return.

The IRS reviews more than a W-2, a 1099, and a bank interest statement. Within the Statute of Limitations, the IRS looks at social security withholding, payroll tax, income tax, capital gains, and everything in between. This just adds to the already existing delay in processing.

It is frustrating for the heirs to wait so long for a distribution; however, they seem to prefer to wait rather than to sign a statement saying that they will bear the responsibility if the IRS comes after them. When dealing with the IRS, you rush to wait. There’s not much of a choice.

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