Your Role as Estate Executor in California

What is my first step as personal representative of a California estate?

The role of personal representative or estate executor is a critically important one.  In the state of California, the personal representative will serve the vital role of inventorying and managing the property of the estate, paying all debts, and ultimately distributing the assets.  Finding out you will become an executor can be intimidating.  Perhaps you have been approached by a loved one and asked to serve as the executor of their estate if they pass away.  Maybe your friend or family member has already died and the court is seeking to name you as the estate executor.  In either event, you will need to find out more about what your role as executor will require.

Assuming the Position of Personal Representative

Probate will be opened upon the deposit of the decedent’s will with the court. Within the will, its creator can nominate an executor.  You will need to accept the nomination, if you so desire.  Alternatively, if the decedent died without a will, the court will need to appoint an administrator, who functions similarly to an executor.  Your position as executor will require that you administer the estate in conformity with the will, if it exists, and California law.  You will have a fiduciary duty to perform your role as executor, meaning that you can be held liable for your failure to perform.

Inventorying the Assets

One of your first tasks as executor will be inventorying the estate’s assets.  You will need to attempt to locate all assets owned by the decedent.  Once found, you must take control of the asset.  You will want to determine the value of each asset, which will likely require an appraisal. Ultimately, you will need to provide the court will an itemized list of all of the assets and their values.

Managing the Assets

You will have the legal duty to reasonably manage all of the property of the estate. You will need to make reasoned decisions as an ordinary person would in managing money, investments, and the like.  This means avoiding any risks moves, and seeking the outside assistance of an experienced money manager if necessary.

Distributing the Assets

As executor, you will need to satisfy any debts of the estate, which could include income tax and estate tax.  To fulfill this duty, California law requires that you run notice of the decedent’s death in certain newspapers.  With the assets gathered and all debts paid, ultimately the court will allow for the distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries named within the will.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.