As the executor of someone’s California probate estate, you must perform many duties. Depending on the estate’s size, extent and complexity, you may well find that administering it takes substantial time and effort on your part.
As Kiplinger recently reported, your duties as executor generally fall into the following five stages:
- Find the will, protect estate property, obtain death certificates
- Submit the will to the court
- Administer the estate, including paying all its bills
- Pay the beneficiaries and yourself
- Close the estate
Stages 1 and 2
First you must find the decedent’s original will, not a copy of it. Many people keep their original will in a safe deposit box; others let the attorney who drafted it keep it; still others keep it in a desk drawer at home.
Next you must secure the estate’s property. Should the decedent’s surviving spouse and/or children be living in the family home, this is not a huge problem. If, however, the house is empty, you need to gain access to it. You may need to ask the court for permission to do this. Once there, collect any accumulated mail and file a change of address at the post office so you will receive any further mail that comes in. Also change the locks and lock all windows and doors.
Order several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate. You will need these to close the decedent’s bank, credit card and other accounts.
File the decedent’s original will with the probate court in the county where the decedent resided. You may wish to hire an experienced probate attorney before doing this. (S)he can help you with the many probate issues that may arise.
Stages 3 through 5
The probate court will issue letters testamentary authorizing you to administer the decedent’s estate. Then your real work begins. You will need to do the following:
- Collect all the estate’s assets
- Pay the decedent’s bills, income taxes and estate taxes if the estate is large enough that it must pay them
- File a final accounting summarizing all estate transactions
- Distribute all remaining estate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries
- Close the estate
While you should not interpret this information as legal advice, it can help you understand the estate administration process and what to expect.