The loss of a loved one is generally followed by an emotional time where you do not want to think about the practical ramifications of your loss. If you were named by the decedent as the Executor of the estate, however, you will need to reign in your emotions and focus on the legalities involved in the probate of the estate. If you have never served as an Executor, you are likely feeling overwhelmed at the job in front of you. It is always wise to retain the services of an experienced probate attorney to help you fulfill your duties as the Executor of an estate; however, the Sacramento probate attorneys at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law have created the following Executor checklist to help get you started.
- Locate, review, and secure estate planning documents. This may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. An original copy of the Will must be located to initiate the probate process.
- Identify and secure major assets. It is your job to ensure that assets are identified, located and secured, such as:
- Take possession of vehicles.
- Lock up real estate.
- Speak to employees at a business and arrange for continues operations.
- Start creating lists of estate assets and debts. To make your job as the PR easier, include as much detail as possible with each entry, including things such as account numbers, passwords, current value, and location.
- Request a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate. You will need to submit this to the court when you open probate. You may request a certified copy from the California Department of Public Health.
- Retain an estate planning attorney. Do not try and go this alone. To avoid costly mistakes, work with an experienced attorney. The estate will cover the cost.
- Inventory estate assets. Now is the time to create a complete, detailed inventory of all estate asset, including both real and personal property as well as tangible and intangible assets.
- Categorize estate assets. Some assets are classified as “non-probate” assets because they bypass probate altogether. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property.
- Petition to open probate. You must file a petition, along with an original copy of the Will and a certified copy of the death certificate in the appropriate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death.
- Seek official appointment as Personal Representative. Even if you were named as the Executor by the decedent, the court must officially appoint you.
- Obtain date of death value for assets. You may need the assistance of various appraisers for DOD values.
- Notify creditors. All known creditors can be personally notified that probate is underway. Unknown creditors must be notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Review creditor claims. All claims submitted must be reviewed and approved or denied by the Executor.
- Sell assets if necessary. If the estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to cover all approved claims, you may need to sell estate assets to raise the necessary cash to satisfy claims.
- Pay approved claims. All approved claims are paid.
- Prepare gift and estate tax return. Every estate is subject to federal (and sometimes state) gift and estate taxation. As the Executor, you must prepare the estate tax return and pay any taxes due to the I.R.S.
- Complete closing inventory. The court may require you to complete a closing inventory showing all remaining assets to be disbursed.
- Transfer remaining assets. As the Executer, you must prepare any documents necessary to effectuate the legal transfer of the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
hat needs to be changed following the death of a spouse
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about serving as an Executor, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law to discuss your legal options by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.