Like most attorneys who do estate administration work, our clients frequently ask us, “How long will this take?” And, again like most attorneys, our response is often “It depends.”
I noted with interest a February 7, 2019 article in the Blazer’s Edge, “Evaluating John Canzano’s Column About the Trail Blazers Lease, Potential Sale.” The article cites Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who told John Canzano of The Oregonian that Paul Allen’s estate will take “about five or six years to be settled” and that the Portland Trail Blazers will likely be sold at “some point.” It continues:
The 5-6 year span mentioned in the article was linked to two things: the amount of time it takes to settle a large estate and the expiration of the Blazers’ lease at Moda Center. As anyone who’s been through the estate process knows, the former number is variable. Nor are the two processes (estate and lease) intrinsically linked. The estate could take that long to settle. If so, that would coincide with lease negotiations. If the estate resolves earlier or later, it won’t.
It certainly isn’t unreasonable, and indeed it might be ambitious, that a large estate like Paul Allen’s will likely take at least five or six years to be administered. Also, please note that although the article refers to Paul Allen’s “estate,” to be more precise, Paul Allen had a living trust and likely most if not all of his assets were titled in the trust.
But, unlike Mr. Allen, what about an average probate estate? How long does that take to administer? In an average probate, at a minimum the Personal Representative will need to wait until the four-month creditor claim period has expired prior to closing the estate. Another factor in determining how long probate takes is the time frame needed to identify and consolidate estate assets. For example, all of the bank accounts lacking beneficiary designations need to be closed out and deposited into the estate account for eventual distribution to the heirs.
The decedent’s real property holdings tend to be a strong determinant of the time period needed for a probate. Assuming that the property won’t be distributed directly to the heirs, the Personal Representative needs to prepare the property for sale, put it on the market, and hope for the best. The estate needs to remain open until all the real property has been sold unless it is distributed to the heirs. Other assets, such as art, vehicles, furniture, etc. may also need to be sold. The decedent’s business may need to either be dissolved or put on the market and sold. Also, the estate needs to address any tax issues that may be present. The decedent may owe income tax for the year of the death, and the estate may also possibly owe tax as well.
In many probates or trusts, there’s also an X factor – a factor that, from a common sense standpoint, requires the administration process to remain ongoing until it’s definitively addressed. For example, in Paul Allen’s case, one such factor appears to be the expiration of the Trail Blazer’s lease at the Moda Center. The trustee likely has been advised that it’s necessary for the lease to expire before the team can be sold. And the team must be sold before the trust administration can be completed.
As you can see, when it comes to estate administration, a better question to ask than “Is it done yet?” is “How long will it likely take to efficiently administer this estate and close it out, making sure everything is being done correctly?”