When a loved one passes away, the last thing most people want to think about is the practical and legal ramifications of their loved one’s death. If you find yourself in this situation though, and you find that you were appointed to be the Executor of the estate by the decedent, you must focus on the legalities as they apply to the decedent’s estate. Acting as the Executor may seem a daunting prospect if you have never before served in that capacity. To help get you started, the Los Angeles estate planning attorneys at Collins Law Firm discuss the top five concerns for a first-time Executor.
When an individual dies, the law requires the decedent’s estate to go through the legal process known as probate. If the decedent died testate, meaning with a valid Last Will and Testament in place, the individual named as the Executor in that Will is the person who will oversee the administration of the estate during the probate process. Probate can involve many complex legal and financial issues. If an Executor is not well versed in the law and/or the world of finance, he/she could make a costly mistake, resulting in both the loss of assets to the estate and unnecessary delays to beneficiaries of the estate. This is one of the many reasons why it is usually a good idea to consult with an estate planning attorney if you find yourself appointed as the Executor of an estate. If the estate requires formal probate, it is wise to retain an estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the process to ensure that you do not make any of those costly mistakes.
Top 5 Concerns for an Executor
Every estate is as unique as the individual who owned the estate. Consequently, the probate process is never exactly the same for any two estates. Nevertheless, there are some common concerns that any Executor should be aware of during the probate of an estate, including:
- Preparing to initiate probate. The first thing any Executor should do is to prepare the estate for probate. This includes locating all relevant estate planning documents which may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. An original copy of the Will must be located in order to initiate the probate process. A petition to open probate will also need to be prepared and a certified death certificate ordered from the appropriate agency.
- Identify, locate and secure estate assets. As the Executor, t is your job to ensure that assets are identified, located and secured to the extent possible. Securing assets might include things such as:
- Taking possession of vehicles
- Locking up real estate
- Speaking to employees at a business and arranging for continued operations.
- Closing out financial accounts.
- Notifying creditors and reviewing claims. All known creditors can be personally notified that probate is underway but for unknown creditors you will need to notify them via publication in a local newspaper. Creditors have up to four months from the date probate was opened to file claims in California. You will also need to evaluate each claim file and approve or deny the claim and pay approved claims out of the available estate assets. If there are insufficient assets to pay all claims you must pay the claims according to the priority set by law.
- Calculating and paying taxes. Every estate is potentially subject to federal (and sometimes state) gift and estate taxes. As Executor, you must determine if the estate owes estate taxes and, if it does, you must pay the tax.
- Distributing estate assets. At the end of the probate process, you must prepare any legal documents necessary to effectuate the transfer of the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contact Los Angeles Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns related to the duties and responsibilities of an Executor during the probate of an estate, be sure to consult with an experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney. Contact the Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.