Depending on the assets that your mother (or other loved one) held at the time of her death and how those assets were titled, it could be a while. The average time to complete the administration of an estate, regardless of whether or not probate is necessary, can range between 15-20 months. This is because the executor (or personal representative) may need to probate, research and transfer/sell assets, notify any creditors, prepare and sell real estate, file any and all required tax returns, and file all necessary court filings. If there are complexities, disputes among beneficiaries or if unforeseen issues arise during the administration, the process may take longer.
From my experience, I have found that both the executor and the beneficiaries begin to get anxious around the one year anniversary of a loved one's death. This is natural and normal as that anniversary marks a significant milestone in the grieving process. However, in most cases, the administration of the estate is not able to be completed before this significant anniversary. While there are certainly exceptions, I often hear some variation of "Why will it take so long? My friend was an executor and everyone had their inheritance within two months." While this may be possible under specific circumstances, it typically, it turns out later that the friend didn't properly administer the estate (such as skipping legal requirements or tax filings).
In some cases, the estate attorney and executor may evaluate whether or not early, partial distributions can be paid out the beneficiaries while they wait for the balance of the estate. If the attorney and executor feel comfortable distributing money early, they may do so. In other cases, there may be serious concerns about the resources available to cover expenses, a beneficiary contesting the distribution amounts, or other issues that could present concerns about distributing funds prematurely. In these cases, the attorney and executor may decide it's best to wait until the administration of the estate is complete. If you are a beneficiary in need of your inheritance sooner and it's been at least nine months since your loved one passed away, you can consider asking the executor if an early distribution is a possibility. Be prepared for either answer.
When I first meet with clients after the death of a loved one, I try to be very clear about this timeline. I go through their specific timeline, the critical due dates for tax returns, and when I would like to see major tasks completed by (i.e., closing all existing accounts or selling real estate). If beneficiaries are present at the initial meeting and I feel that the estate will fit into that typical 15-20 month time range, I am sure to explain the timeline and process to them. I have found that by communicating this clearly, everyone understands that the delay isn't due to the executor's laziness or neglect of his/her duties, but rather that it's normal for the estate to take well over a year to administer.
If you are an executor and need assistance administering an estate, we would be happy to talk with you.