Timetable for Administration
Probate is usually only one aspect of estate administration. Resolution of income tax, gift tax and estate tax issues can also constitute part of estate administration. Shortly after the appointment of the estate’s personal representative, the Register of Probate will publish in a local newspaper a notice to the decedent’s creditors. To expedite the claims process, the decedent’s creditors may be given personal notice, by mail, of the decedent’s death so they can present any outstanding bills for payment. When we represent a personal representative, we gladly assist with these notices.
Maine law requires that every decedent’s estate remain open for a period of time (usually less than a year) to permit creditors and other interested persons to come forward and present their claims. In addition, the size of an estate can affect the duration of estate administration. If the gross estate (a tax-related term that describes not only probate assets but also assets that do not pass under the decedent’s will) is under the State of Maine exemption ($5,490,000 in 2017), it is often possible to close the estate administration after nine months have elapsed since the decedent’s death. If the estate is large enough, however, to require the filing of either a Maine or a federal estate tax return, such early closure is not possible. Please see the topic Taxes for more details about filing federal and Maine estate tax returns.
If a Maine and federal estate tax returns are filed, the estate must generally be kept open until Maine Revenue Service and the Internal Revenue Service provide the personal representative with a Closing Letter that confirms that the estate tax returns have been accepted and that no additional estate tax is due. This notification (or negotiations with MRS and the IRS) usually occurs between 15 and 27 months after the decedent’s death. Until both the federal and Maine tax aspects of the estate have finally been settled, however, the estate must remain open. In some cases, the delay in receiving a Closing Letter from Maine Revenue Service or the IRS means the estate administration can take up to three years.
Even if the decedent’s estate must remain open for a prolonged period, it may be possible to distribute many of the assets before closure of estate administration. The extent of the potential federal and Maine estate tax liabilities, the nature of the estate’s assets and the identity of the beneficiaries of the estate will be important factors in determining whether substantial partial distributions from the estate are possible before the estate is closed. When we represent a personal representative, we discuss the possibility of making partial distributions from the estate and the anticipated timeframes applicable to the estate.