Determine eligibility for early distributions to beneficiaries

Settle the Estate

Ordinarily, an estate cannot distribute assets to beneficiaries until all debts have first been paid.

"Distribution of assets" is the term for delivering cash or other property of the deceased to the deceased’s heirs.

There are some circumstances where an early distribution of estate funds can help both beneficiaries and the estate.

For example, if the deceased’s home is not maintained, its value may decrease over time. Or, a minor beneficiary may need funds because the deceased was their primary caregiver.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know As long as an estate has enough value to pay final taxes, additional expenses, and all other additional debts, and is not subject to any lawsuits, then some assets may be distributed to beneficiaries before probate is finished.This is known as early beneficiary distribution or preliminary distribution.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Early distributions require approval by the probate court and the court may require a hearing on the matter.

State law may also limit how much can be distributed, so it is important to review the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

Helpful Tips


Probate can be a lengthy process, lasting up to a year or longer.

During that time, the executor or administrator cannot give estate assets to heirs until all of the deceased’s bills and debts have been paid.

This means it can be months or years before a deceased person’s heirs and beneficiaries get access to the deceased’s assets.

There are some situations where the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries might need access to the deceased’s assets sooner.

For instance, dependents of the deceased may need money to survive before the probate process is concluded or they are given legal access to the deceased’s assets.

In such a case, most probate courts have special procedures, determined by state law, for heirs and beneficiaries to request “early distributions.”

If the probate court approves of a beneficiary’s request for early distribution, they typically get to access a specific amount of the deceased’s liquid funds (e.g., $5,000) before the deceased’s bills are paid and other assets are distributed.

Both state law and the probate court judge will determine how much a beneficiary can receive as an early distribution.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know The process of requesting early distributions can be complex and time-consuming.Probate courts may be reluctant to award early distributions too early in the probate process, meaning heirs and beneficiaries may still have to wait several months before they have access to the deceased’s assets (even when an early distribution is approved).

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased have an urgent need to access the deceased’s assets, it may be wise to speak with a probate attorney.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders A probate attorney can help determine if any beneficiaries qualify for an early distribution according to state law, and assist with the process of requesting an early distribution.

Personal Considerations


Was the deceased the primary caregiver for an elderly person or a person with disabilities?


The elderly person will need access to estate funds promptly in order to ensure they are safe and cared for.

Assets cannot be given to beneficiaries and heirs of the deceased until all of the deceased’s bills and debts have been paid, but this can take months or over a year.

Most states have a special process where they allow early (or preliminary) distributions to beneficiaries who need funds before the estate’s debts and bills have been paid.

Normally, the executor has to petition the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, requesting permission to give away assets before the estate’s debts have been paid.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Heirs or beneficiaries requesting an early distribution must present a compelling reason as to why they should be given a distribution before the deceased’s bills and debts have been paid.

For example, if the deceased has a surviving spouse in a nursing home, and the deceased was paying the nursing home fees, the surviving spouse might need an early distribution to pay for their continued medical care, or they may be forced into the care of adult protective services.

In such a case, the beneficiary would need to gather evidence that shows why they need an early distribution and whether the estate will still be able to pay all of its bills and debts if an early distribution is made.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Every state has different rules and procedures governing this process, so it may be helpful to speak with an estate attorney in the state where the deceased lived to ensure all rules are being followed and how to request early distributions. Find attorneys near you at the links below.


The estate may not qualify for early distributions.

This means the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate will have to wait until all bills and debts of the deceased have been paid before they are given assets according to the deceased’s will, or according to state law in the absence of a will.

Review the other questions in this section to see if another situation applies that might make the estate eligible for early distributions.


If the deceased was the primary caregiver for an elderly person:

The elderly person will need access to estate funds promptly in order to ensure they are safe and cared for.

Assets cannot be given to beneficiaries and heirs of the deceased until all of the deceased’s bills and debts have been paid, but this can take months or over a year.

Most states have a special process where they allow early (or preliminary) distributions to beneficiaries who need funds before the estate’s debts and bills have been paid.

Normally, the executor has to petition the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, requesting permission to give away assets before the estate’s debts have been paid.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Heirs or beneficiaries requesting an early distribution must present a compelling reason as to why they should be given a distribution before the deceased’s bills and debts have been paid.

For example, if the deceased has a surviving spouse in a nursing home, and the deceased was paying the nursing home fees, the surviving spouse might need an early distribution to pay for their continued medical care, or they may be forced into the care of adult protective services.

In such a case, the beneficiary would need to gather evidence that shows why they need an early distribution and whether the estate will still be able to pay all of its bills and debts if an early distribution is made.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Every state has different rules and procedures governing this process, so it may be helpful to speak with an estate attorney in the state where the deceased lived to ensure all rules are being followed and how to request early distributions. Find attorneys near you at the links below.

If the deceased was not the primary caregiver for an elderly person:

The estate may not qualify for early distributions.

This means the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate will have to wait until all bills and debts of the deceased have been paid before they are given assets according to the deceased’s will, or according to state law in the absence of a will.

Review the other questions in this section to see if another situation applies that might make the estate eligible for early distributions.


Was the deceased the primary caregiver for a minor child?


The minor child will likely need access to estate funds promptly in order to ensure they are safe and cared for.

Otherwise, the minor child could end up in the care of child protective services (an outcome probate courts would rather avoid).

Most states have a special process where they allow early (or preliminary) distributions to beneficiaries who need funds before the estate’s debts and bills have been paid.

The executor or administrator of the estate will need to petition the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, requesting the ability to give away assets before the estate’s debts have been paid.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Every state has different rules and procedures governing this process, so it may be helpful to speak with a probate attorney in the state where the deceased lived to ensure all rules are being followed and how to request early distributions.


The estate may not qualify for early distributions.

This means the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate will have to wait until all bills and debts of the deceased have been paid before they are given assets according to the deceased’s will, or according to state law in the absence of a will.

Review the other questions in this section to see if another situation applies that might make the estate eligible for early distributions.


If the deceased was the primary caregiver for a child or children:

The minor child will likely need access to estate funds promptly in order to ensure they are safe and cared for.

Otherwise, the minor child could end up in the care of child protective services (an outcome probate courts would rather avoid).

Most states have a special process where they allow early (or preliminary) distributions to beneficiaries who need funds before the estate’s debts and bills have been paid.

The executor or administrator of the estate will need to petition the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, requesting the ability to give away assets before the estate’s debts have been paid.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Every state has different rules and procedures governing this process, so it may be helpful to speak with a probate attorney in the state where the deceased lived to ensure all rules are being followed and how to request early distributions.

If the deceased was not primary caregiver for a child or children:

The estate may not qualify for early distributions.

This means the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate will have to wait until all bills and debts of the deceased have been paid before they are given assets according to the deceased’s will, or according to state law in the absence of a will.

Review the other questions in this section to see if another situation applies that might make the estate eligible for early distributions.

Providers to Contact


Probate Attorneys Near You

Probate attorneys help settle a deceased person’s estate. They can help determine if beneficiaries are eligible for early distributions and file any paperwork required by the probate court.

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