Ask the Attorney: What Do I Do as an Executor When My Loved One Passes Away?

If you’ve been appointed as executor of your loved one’s estate, you may feel as though this is another worry on your plate. Although serving as an executor does give you certain responsibilities, it is entirely doable with a skilled estate planning attorney to help you along the way. 

Here is everything you need to know about serving as an executor when a loved one passes away in California.

What does an executor of an estate do?

The executor of an estate is in charge of administering a person’s estate once they’ve passed. Also referred to as a personal representative, an executor plays an integral role in the probate process.

The following are some of the most important tasks you can expect to complete as an estate executor: 

Locate the Decedent’s Estate Planning Documents

Upon learning of your loved one’s passing, the first thing you’ll do is locate their estate planning documents. This could include a will and trust documents.

Obtain a Copy of the Decedent’s Death Certificate

Once the death certificate is available, obtain a copy. You’ll need the death certificate to open the probate case. 

File Documentation With the Probate Court to Open a Case

To open a probate case, you’ll need to file the decedent’s death certificate, will, and completed Petition for Probate form. You’ll also need to pay the accompanying filing fee. 

To exercise your rights as executor of an estate, you’ll need a formal court appointment. Once you file the necessary documents to open your probate case, the court can issue a court order naming you executor. They’ll also provide documentation that gives you authority to complete your tasks as executor. 

Take Control of the Decedent’s Property and Assets

As soon as you’re able, you’ll need to locate and take control of the decedent’s assets. This includes everything from bank accounts to real property. 

As executor of an estate, you’ll also need to maintain and care for the decedent’s assets during the probate process until they are formally transferred to their rightful heirs or beneficiaries. 

Locate and Notify the Decedent’s Heirs

Once you know who the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries are, you’ll need to send them formal notice of the decedent’s passing. This also notifies them of the ongoing probate case. 

Provide Notice to Creditors

Debts do not just disappear after a person’s passing. Therefore, you must give notice to creditors or potential creditors during the creditor period, which is four months in California. 

During these four months, creditors can file a claim for repayment of outstanding debts. Once the four months have passed, creditors that don’t file claims are barred from doing so. 

Distribute Property to Designated Heirs

When property and assets are ready for distribution, you must oversee the distribution process to ensure heirs receive what they’re entitled to under the decedent’s will or the law. 

Some property may not be distributed but instead may be sold for profit, which you will also oversee as well. Profits may then be distributed to heirs or used to pay debts. 

Handle Estate Taxes

Before closing the decedent’s estate, the decedent’s personal income tax return must be filed, and estate taxes must be paid. It is important to pay taxes on time to avoid potential trouble later. 

Formally Close the Estate

Once you’ve completed these tasks, you can petition the court to close the estate.

You’ll need to provide the court with a final accounting and summarize all of the actions you took on behalf of the estate. When the judge is satisfied and believes estate matters have been successfully taken care of, they will close the estate and discharge you of your duties as executor. 

An Estate Attorney Can Guide You Through the Probate Process

The probate process can be confusing, but you don’t have to go through it alone. The compassionate and knowledgeable team of OC Wills & Trusts Attorneys is your trusted partner at every stage of the estate planning process, including probate. We proudly serve clients in Orange County, CA, and surrounding areas. 

Contact us today to schedule a consultation.