What Do I Have to Do as an Executor of an Estate?

If you’ve been asked to be the executor of an estate, or if the time has come for you to serve as an estate executor, you may have some significant questions about what lies ahead for you. You may wonder what you will have to do as an executor of an estate.

Collect and Organize Vital Documents

A crucial initial task associated with serving as the executor of an estate is to collect and organize documents necessary to undertake the probate process. The most crucial of these items is the last will and testament a deceased person created or a trust agreement. If a person wrote a will before he or she died, the original copy of that instrument is to be filed with the local probate court.

Other types of documents need to be collected and organized by the executor. Examples of these documents include:

  • Title to automobiles
  • Bank account documents
  • Other financial account documents
  • Retirement account documents
  • Life insurance policies
  • Prepaid funeral and disposition documents
  • Social security card
  • Medicare card
  • Health insurance policy

The last will and testament is the document that provides the foundation upon which an executor has authority to act on behalf of the estate. The local probate court considers the nomination of an executor made in the will. If the court approves of the selection (and a probate judge usually will), the court issues what are known as “letters of executorship” (a court order giving an executor legal power to act on behalf of an estate).

When a person drafts a will, that individual should advise the executor of where the instrument will be kept. Moreover, the executor should be able to gain access to the location of the will when the drafter passes away.

Determine Whether Legal Counsel is Needed

At the beginning of the probate process, an executor will need to make a decision regarding retaining a probate lawyer to assist in dealing with the affairs of the estate. If an estate particularly large or complex, hiring a probate attorney is likely the advisable course.

You do need to bear in mind that probate law is complicated and the probate process can be paperwork-intensive. Yes, there are standard forms that can be downloaded from judicial websites, including the state of California. However, even with the availability of templates and forms, if a mistake is made in filling them out there can be devastating consequences.

California law, and the laws of other states, set forth some general parameters about attorney fees. If the estate requires a more formal probate process, the court ultimately approves attorney fees before they are paid.

File Last Will and Testament With Probate Court

As mentioned previously, the original copy of the last will and testament must be filed with the local probate court. As a general rule, a copy of a will is not acceptable to a court – the original instrument being mandatory. With that said, if an original will is not available for some reason, a copy might be used, but that can be a complicated process.

Prepare an Estate Inventory

The next primary task when the last will and testament has been filed with the probate court is the preparation of an inventory of the assets of the estate. This is a comprehensive listing of the assets of the deceased person in general categories.

Sell Estate Assets

There may be assets that need to be sold as part of the probate process. For example, if the deceased person owned real estate of some sort, that individual’s will may call for the property to be sold and the processed from the sale distributed among the heirs. If personal property needs to be sold, that oftentimes is done through an estate sale or an auction.

Pay Bills and Taxes

Another key task of an estate executor is paying bills and taxes. Bills can include those associated with the deceased person’s final illness as well as those from a funeral and final disposition of the remains. Taxes might include income taxes for the last year a person was alive and estate taxes.

Distribute Assets to Heirs

Once all of the bills have been satisfied, as well as any tax liabilities, the remaining assets are then available for distribution to the heirs named in the last will and testament. An executor oversees this process, obtaining a receipt for any assets given or a particular heir.

Prepare Final Report for the Probate Court

The last major task of an estate executor is to prepare a final report for the probate court. The report includes all of the basic information regarding the ultimate disposition of the estate. This includes a summary of bills paid, taxes addressed, property sold, and how and to whom the assets of the estate ultimately were distributed to the heirs of the estate.