In our Mississippi probate practice, we sometimes get calls from heirs or beneficiaries who are anxious to close or settle an estate. Often the estate proceedinghas stalled, and the heirs simply want to know why.
There are many causes for delay in closing estate, some legitimate (e.g., assets to gather or creditor issues to resolve), some not (e.g., unresponsive personal representative, inattentive attorney). In this situation, the heir or beneficiary has two options to force someone to settle a Mississippi estate:
- Compel a Distribution – If at least 6 months have passed from the date that letters of administration or letters testamentary were issued, the heir can petition the court to compel a distribution from the estate. Notice must be given to the personal representative and to all of the other heirs of the estate. The court can then order the distribution.
- Compel the Closing of the Estate – The heir or beneficiary can petition the court to order the personal representative to wind up the estate. This essentially shifts the burden to the personal representative to demonstrate why the estate can’t be closed.
Failure to promptly close an estate is serious business. Mississippi law provides:
If an executor or administrator improperly delay making a final settlement, he shall be summoned to show cause why a final settlement should not be made. On the return of summons executed, if a final settlement be not made or cause shown why it cannot then be made, the court may fine such delinquent in any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars and imprison him not exceeding three months, for a contempt. Any executor or administrator whose letters have been revoked may be dealt with in like manner for failure to make settlement.
In other words, improper delay in closing the estate can result in a fine of up to $500.00 and three months in jail. This is why we sometimes overstress the importance of taking care of estate business in a timely manner. Our clients understand their responsibility to move things along. But when someone else is handling the estate, these provisions can help nudge them toward final settlement.