When your loved one approached you about serving as the executor of his or her estate, you may have felt honored and quickly agreed. Even though you know that everyone dies, for some reason, you never really thought you would need to serve in this capacity.
Now, your loved one has passed away, and you face carrying out the duties of an executor. The problem is that you have no idea what to do. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. With the right advice and guidance, you can administer the estate of your loved one as efficiently, quickly and smoothly as possible.
Your duties as executor
As an executor, you must complete several tasks before you can distribute any property to anyone. Those tasks include the following:
- Locate and file the will with the court.
- Open a bank account in the name of the estate.
- Locate anyone who may stand to inherit under the will or California law and advise them of the decedent's passing.
- Locate and inventory the assets of the deceased.
- Safeguard the assets throughout the probate process.
- Make sure any necessary payments remain current. This could include property insurance, mortgage loans and the like.
- Notify the decedent's creditors.
- Pay off debts of the estate.
- Determine what, if any, tax returns need to be filed and pay any required taxes.
- Contact others who need to be aware of the decedent's passing such as the Social Security Administration.
- Cancel credit cards, utilities and other services or accounts no longer of use.
Only after you complete or eliminate all of the aforementioned tasks to the court's satisfaction can you distribute the remaining assets in accordance with the will. By accepting the position of executor, you took on a fiduciary duty to administer the estate diligently, honestly and to the best of your ability. Should you miss any necessary step, it could cause issues for you, the estate and others. You could also encounter complications if an heir or heir-at-law contests the will for some reason.
You don't have to do it alone
This all may seem overwhelming right now, but fortunately, you don't have to tackle the job alone. You may bring in third parties to help you as needed. For instance, an experienced probate attorney can guide you through the process from start to finish. You may also need the services of others such as a financial advisor or an appraiser in order to carry out your duties to the best of your ability.