In California, an executor of a deceased person’s estate has quite a few duties imposed by law that he or she needs to follow. Executors may learn for the first time that they must perform these duties after their relative or friend has passed away. If you are named as an executor in a will or if you plan to name someone else, learn about what executors do first.
An executor is a person named in a deceased person’s will who gathers and distributes the estate. To officially act as executor, you must be appointed by a court. This happens in a probate court, and the court’s task is called “probating a will”. If there is no executor named or no will, the court may appoint an administrator to perform the same tasks. Executors and administrators owe fiduciary duties to the estate heirs or beneficiaries. They must act in the heirs’ best interest and avoid conflicts of interest.
After the court appoints an executor, the judge will ask him or her to begin locating the estate assets and determining their value. For some items, the executor must get a special court appraisal. Then the executor needs to prepare and file an estate inventory and appraisal document. If the deceased person owned real estate, the executor needs to file a special document changing the ownership.
Next, the executor must spend time managing the estate’s assets. These duties include investing the assets prudently with the goal of maintaining or increasing their value if possible, keeping estate assets separate from the executor’s property and others’ property, and following court orders regarding payment of executor reimbursements and attorneys’ fees. The executor probably will have to open some separate bank accounts and may need an attorney’s advice for certain aspects of managing the estate.
Executors need to keep records showing which assets the estate holds, how the assets were invested, where they are located, when they were received, how money was spent, and more. They need to account to the court for every penny spent or received after the deceased person passed away and before the probate closes.
In addition, the executor needs to send notices to creditors of the estate telling them that the assets are being gathered and will be distributed. This allows the creditors to make claims against the estate to obtain repayment of debts.
Once the assets have been gathered, creditors have made claims, and heirs and beneficiaries have been located, the court can order that the debts be paid to creditors and the assets be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. The executor will carry this out before the probate case is closed.
Were you named as executor of a substantial estate and need legal guidance? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful probate advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.