Being named as the executor of an estate of a family member, friend, or colleague is something of an honor. The person who named you as the executor if their last will and testament demonstrated a level of significant level of confidence in your capabilities and trustworthiness. With that said, being named the executive of an estate is an important and sometimes challenging task. Before you agree to be named as an executor of an estate, or if you are about to embark on serving in this capacity, you do need to have a basic understanding of the basic responsibilities of an executor.
An Executor Has a Legal Fiduciary Duty to the Estate and Heirs
A fiduciary duty legally is defined as a duty to act in the best interests of someone or something else. At the heart of an executor’s responsibilities is what is known as a fiduciary duty to the estate and, by extension, to the heirs of the estate. In the case of an estate, an executor has the responsibility to protect the assets of the estate and to ensure that they are expended and ultimately distributed to heirs in accordance with the wishes of the deceased person and the laws of the state.
Access to the Original Copy of the Will
When a person drafts a will, that individual should make certain that the person named as executor is aware of this designation. Moreover, the person named as the executor in a will should know where the original copy of the instrument is located. The executor needs to be able to access the original copy of the will when the person who created the instrument dies.
Determine What Type of Probate Process Is Necessary
There different types of probate processes in jurisdictions across the United States, including in California. Most estates that go through the probate process in California are subject to what is known as the Independent Administration of Estates Act. There is very little involvement of the probate court when this simpler process is available – again, as it is in most cases in California. Other states have similar simplified probate processes.
If an estate has a substantial amount of assets or is particularly complicated (of both), a more formal probate process may be required. The more formal process involves more involvement of the probate court in probating the will.
If the total value of an estate in California is $150,000 or less, no probate process is necessary. Property can pass to heirs by having them sign a simple affidavit or sworn statement.
File the Will With the Local Probate Court
The executor is responsible for filing the original copy of last will and testament in the probate county in the country where the deceased individual resided at the time of death.
Notify Financial Institutions, Governmental Agencies, and Other Entities of Decedent’s Death
Key entities need to be notified of the deceased person’s death. This includes such entities like:
- Financial institutions
- Governmental agencies
Prepare an Inventory of the Estate
A major responsibility of an executor is preparing what technically is known as an inventory of the estate. This is a listing of major assets and the estimated value of them. In some instances, an appraisal may need to be obtained. For example, ascertaining the value of the deceased person’s residence may necessitate a professional appraisal.
Consider the Need to Retain Legal Counsel
In some instances, retaining the services of an experienced probate attorney is a wise decision. This particularly is the case when an estate is particularly complex or involves a more considerable amount in the way of assets. In addition, if the will ends up contested by someone, an executor needs to give serious consideration to hiring a probate lawyer. The fees associated with legal representation during the probate of a will are paid by the estate itself. In California, there are caps regarding what a lawyer can charge an estate during the probate process.
Set Up a Bank Account for the Estate
When an estate is in probate, an executor needs to set up a special bank account for the estate. This will be the account through which debts, taxes, and other expenses of the estate will be paid.
Pay Final Bills, Funeral, and Disposition Expenses
Speaking of paying bills, this is a main task of an executor. Bills that an estate is likely to face include:
- Expenses of final illness
- Funeral expenses
- Disposition expenses
- Mortgage debt
- Car loan debt
- Other outstanding liabilities of person who died
An entity or individual owed money by the deceased person or the estate needs to file an appropriate claim if a more formal probate process is being pursued.
Pay Taxes of All Types
There can be various tax liabilities that need to be addressed by an estate. This is yet another responsibility if an estate’s executor.
Taxes that an executor may need to arrange for payment from the estate can include estate taxes themselves, income taxes, and other taxes that the deceased individual may have been responsible for paying at the time of death.
Distribute Assets to Heirs Named in the Will
The final task of an executor is distributing the assets that remain after paying bills and taxes to the heirs named in the last will and testament. The executor is obliged to ensure the distribution is in accordance with the dictates of the will.