When you get involved with distributing a relative or friend’s estate in California, you may not know the difference between an executor and a personal representative. Also, you may not understand what their roles are in estate distribution.
What Is an Executor?
Someone making a will to give away his or her assets after death should choose an executor. The executor takes care of gathering, valuing, and distributing all estate assets to heirs. He or she also pays off any debts of the deceased person. Many executors participate in the probate court process.
When an estate meets certain requirements, the family must present the will to a local probate court. The court verifies the will and appoints the executor named in it. If no executor is named, the judge will select one. If the executor named in the will has died, the judge will appoint the successor trustee who is named or select someone else.
What Is a Personal Representative?
The term personal representative refers to either an executor or administrator of a deceased person. Both of these people must be appointed by the probate court. Even if a will names an executor, the judge has the opportunity to name that person or choose someone else. Generally, the executor or administrator is a family member of the deceased person or someone in a trusted position (such as the deceased person’s lawyer or financial advisor).
When a person does not have a will or the court declares that the will is not valid, someone needs to manage and distribute the person’s estate. The judge appoints the administrator to carry out that process. An administrator has the same duties and responsibilities as an executor. The only exception is that there are no instructions in the will to follow when distributing assets. Instead, the administrator must follow the order of intestate succession. A surviving spouse and any children usually inherit first, followed by parents and more distant relatives.
If you have been named as a personal representative – executor or administrator – you may need legal help to carry out your duties. Talk to a local probate and estate lawyer for assistance.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning and 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