Did you recently find out that you are the Executor of a Will of a recently deceased loved one? If so, and the appointment was not discussed with you at the time it was made, you are probably wondering what it means to be the Executor. Unless you have served as an Executor before, you may not know where to start or who to turn to for help. Although no two estates are exactly the same, there are some common duties and responsibilities that the Executor of a Will usually has when probating an estate. To ensure that you do not make a costly mistake, however, you should consult with an experienced California estate planning attorney as soon as possible.
What Does the Executor of a Will Do?
When an individual dies, he or she leaves behind an estate that is made up of all the decedent’s assets. That estate must then go through a legal process known as “probate.” If you were named as the Executor under the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, it is your job to administer the estate and oversee the probate process.
Executor Duties During Probate
As the Executor of the Will, you have a number of important duties and responsibilities during the probate of the estate. In fact, your job begins as soon as you learn of the death of the decedent. Among your duties are:
- Locate an original Will – as soon as you learn of the death of the decedent, and that you were appointed the Executor of the Will, it is imperative that you locate an original copy of the decedent’s Will.
- Secure assets – also as soon after the decedent’s death as possible, you need to secure any known assets. That might entail anything from closing financial accounts to locking up a vacation home.
- Identify, locate, and value assets – you will then need to do a more thorough job of identifying and locating estate assets. They must also be categorized as probate or non-probate assets because not all assets are required to go through probate. Assets such as trust assets, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property bypass the probate process. Once you know which assets are part of the probate of the estate, you must obtain a date of death value for them.
- Determine whether formal probate is required – not all estates require formal probate. There is a small estate alternative to formal probate for estates that qualify. Once you have an estimate for the state’s value, and you know the kind of assets included in the estate, you can decide which type is required.
- Open probate – a petition to open probate, along with the original coy of the decedent’s Will, must be submitted to the appropriate court to officially open the probate of the estate.
- Notify creditors – creditors of the estate must be notified to give them the opportunity to file a claim against the estate. Known creditors may be notified individually; however, all unknown creditor must be notified by publishing a copy of the notice of probate in a local newspaper.
- Review claims – creditors have a statutory time period within which to file claims against the estate. As the Executor, you must review all claims filed and approve or deny each claim.
- Defend the Will – if someone contests the Will submitted for probate, the Executor is required to defend the Will throughout any litigation that follows.
- Pay taxes – all estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. The Executor must determine if any taxes are due and file all state and federal tax returns.
- Transfer assets – at the end of the probate process, the Executor must effectuate the legal transfer of any remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiary and/or heirs of the estate.
For additional information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns, consult with an experienced California estate planning attorney. Contact theCollins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to reserve for a Free Estate Planning Workshop.