Being named the executor of an estate is an honor but can also seem overwhelming. Preparation can remove some of the stress. If a family member, colleague, or friend names you as the executor, there are steps you can take before and immediately after they die that can help ease the process.
A person selects an executor because they trust the person with access to their personal records and finances after they die. They believe that person will uphold their obligations and responsibilities. Building a relationship with an attorney with comprehensive knowledge in California estate administration can safeguard against any responsibilities falling through the cracks.
Purpose of an Executor
An executor helps to finalize the finances and assets for a deceased person. That work will entail numerous details such as ensuring the wishes stated in the will or trust are carried out. An executor also addresses creditor issues and unpaid debt.
Preparations While Testator Is Alive
An executor’s legal responsibilities do not officially begin until after the estate’s owner – called the testator – passes away. That does not mean the executor cannot prepare for that inevitability.
Here are steps before the testator dies that can simplify the work of the executor:
- Both the estate’s owner and their executor agree to a location where the will, deeds, trust documents, and other important legal instruments are kept. Keeping copies at a second location is often helpful. Not knowing where these documents are kept will add to the executor’s frustration and hamper their ability to carry out the wishes of the deceased.
- The testator creates their will and/or trust sometimes years before an executor is called to action. If the testator maintains an annual accounting of their possessions and let’s the executor know where this is kept, then this can help an executor track accounts (including debt obligations) and valuables.
- Not all possessions have significant financial value but can have sentimental value for loved ones. The testator can provide the executor with a list of who gets what. This could resolve disputes if the person already indicated who they wanted to receive their fishing lures or jewelry, for example. They should also let the executor know about their wishes for funeral and burial arrangements. These arrangements can be made in advance by the testator.
- Testators can provide the contact information for any legal, financial, and other professionals that they use. The executor will need to work with these people upon the death of the individual.
Honest conversations between the testator and executor can eliminate confusion and save time when the executor must begin their official duties.
Actions to Take Upon the Testator’s Death
The preparations taken before the death of the testator will enable executors a foundation from which to implement their duties. An estate administration attorney helps executors comply with their legal requirements.
The executor will take the following actions upon the death of the testator:
- Locate the will, trust, and other important documents (property tax record, divorce decrees, real estate deeds, etc.).
- Request copies of death certificates.
- Implement the funeral arrangements.
- File the will in probate court.
- Notify agencies such as Social Security, Veterans Affairs, and Medicare.
- Notify the person’s credit card companies, mortgage companies, and banks.
- Find and value assets
- Manage the sale of personal property or distribution among heirs.
- Set up an estate account.
- Communicate with creditors about unpaid debt.
- Pay expenses and debts, including any required taxes.
- File a tax return.
The Value of Legal Support in Estate Administration
An executor’s obligation to creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, and others is complex and time-consuming. Failing to adequately administer the estate can lead to lawsuits from creditors, heirs, and others. Intentional mishandling of the estate has potential criminal consequences. An estate attorney can outline an executor’s duties and the consequences of failing to uphold their responsibilities. The more complicated the estate the more likely the help of an attorney will be a necessity.
The Law Office of Mitchell A. Port has worked in probate, trust, administration, tax controversies, and estate planning for more than three decades. Contact us if you have questions about being an executor or need help in creating your own estate plan. Call (310) 526-3433 or complete our online form to start planning for the future.