Duties of an Executor in California Probate

CA Probate Administration Attorneys Help Clients Manage Estates in Los Angeles and Throughout California

In California, as is the case throughout the country, the lifetime assets of a deceased individual must be properly evaluated and (depending on the structure and amount of such assets) go through a court-supervised process known as “probate.” Probate ensures that the estate and its assets are fully accounted for. Taxes and debts must be paid, of course, and beneficiaries will receive the remainder.

It is the Executor — named in the Will and appointed by the probate court — who oversees and administers the winding down of the estate pursuant to the terms of the Will. Though being named an Executor is generally considered to be an honor, many individuals feel overwhelmed by the imposition of new and unfamiliar duties.

Executors in California have a broad range of duties, and failure to adequately perform those duties with reasonable care and diligence could result in significant personal liability. It is therefore worth consulting with a qualified Los Angeles probate administration attorney who has experience successfully guiding Executors through the California probate process.

So, what duties are required of an Executor in CA? Consider the following non-exhaustive list.

Initiating the Probate Process in Los Angeles, CA

Executors in California must initiate the probate process by filing a petition in the superior court of the county in which the deceased resided. Unreasonable and unjustifiable delays in initiating the probate process could pose serious problems for beneficiaries who are relying on the eventual distribution of estate assets (i.e., for education, health, daily costs, etc.). Additionally, a delay may lead to a determination that the Executor has breached their fiduciary duty, thus exposing them to personal liability.

Inventorying, Collecting, and Appraising Estate Assets in CA

The Executor must take an active role in identifying all relevant estate assets — including those that are, as of yet, unpaid, such as an unpaid salary — and collect those assets on behalf of the estate. Once the Executor takes possession of all relevant assets, they must inventory such assets and have them appraised. Records should be properly maintained, as the Executor must provide the California probate court with an accurate, itemized list of the estate assets.

Managing Estate Assets in California

One of the most challenging duties imposed on an Executor in CA is that of managing the estate assets. The Executor is expected to maintain property through reasonable means (i.e., paying for real estate maintenance and other services) and invest the estate assets in a reasonably prudent manner. Be careful when investing estate assets — if you put the funds in a high-risk investment and lose, then you could be on the hook for breaching your fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries.

Notifying California Creditors and Beneficiaries

Once probate has been initiated, it is your legal duty as an Executor to serve notice of the impending probate hearing(s) on the known creditors and beneficiaries. All creditors and beneficiaries must be given the opportunity to “have their day in court,” so this notification requirement is fundamental to the CA probate administration process.

In California, statutory law demands that — if certain creditors are unknown or not ascertainable given the available facts — adequate notice must be established through publication of the death (and subsequent probate) in a newspaper.

Paying Taxes and Debts in Chatsworth Probate

Generally speaking, the CA probate process is primarily designed to ensure that taxes are paid to the government and that creditors can secure payment of the debts owed to them before the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. Court-supervised probate is a formal procedure that guarantees the estate assets cannot be misused or miscalculated “behind the scenes.” As the Executor, you must conduct a proper accounting of the estate assets and pay all applicable taxes and debts to the respective parties.

Of course, not every claim is valid — when a creditor submits a claim, it is your job (working with the probate court) to determine whether that claim is actually valid and must be paid.

Distributing Assets to Intended Beneficiaries in North Hills, CA

Finally, an Executor must distribute the remaining assets (after paying taxes and debts) to the beneficiaries. Distribution to the beneficiaries requires a court order authorizing such distributions, unless you have filed a petition for “Full Powers” with the probate court. It’s worth noting that distributions can give rise to serious conflicts and delays. In some cases, one beneficiary may be given a much smaller portion of the estate assets than they otherwise expected. As a result, they may contest the Will, thus setting into motion a complex chain of events.

Contact an Experienced Mission Hills Probate Attorney Today for a Free Consultation

Here at the Law Offices of Darrell C. Harriman in North Hills, CA, we have over three decades of experience providing comprehensive probate administration services to Executors throughout California. We understand that Executorship is a challenging and confusing proposition for many people who are unfamiliar with the probate process. As such, we believe that effective legal representation (in the probate administration context) demands close engagement with the Executor client to ensure a full understanding of the issues.

We can assist with all aspects of probate administration in CA, from the initiation of probate proceedings to inventorying and appraisal issues, to closing out the estate, and everything in-between. Interested in learning more? Call (818) 435-4728 or submit an online form today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Chatsworth probate attorney at the Law Offices of Darrell C. Harriman.