When a person creates a Will, he or she chooses someone to act as executor of the estate. An executor is responsible for administrating the estate settlement process. Even though a probate court will likely be involved in this process unless the estate is very modest, it is ultimately the executor’s responsibility to make sure the decedent’s wishes are carried out. While steps vary in each case due to the unique aspects of each estate, there are several steps you can take to make sure your job as an executor starts off on the right foot.
Step 1: Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate.
The probate process cannot really begin until you have official documentation of the person’s death. Death certificates are issued by the government but are often ordered as a courtesy by funeral directors. As an executor you will need this document to notify several different parties of the death, and because of this you will need multiple copies of the death certificate. It’s always best to get more copies than you think you’ll need so you don’t have to scramble to find an additional copy.
Step 2: Find the Will.
The Will represents the decedent’s final wishes and must be approved by a probate court. It’s important that you take the original copy of the Will and lodge it with the probate court to begin the probate process. A recent change in California law now requires the payment of a $50 fee to lodge a Will. You’ll also need to file numerous other documents as part of the probate process.
Step 3: Get a probate attorney
The probate process is often very difficult, especially for someone uninitiated in its complexities. Executors without prior probate experience should always consult a local probate attorney. If you’ve been named executor and have no idea what to do, consulting the right attorney should be your first step. The cost of the attorney is a legitimate cost of estate administration and is payable from estate funds. It does not have to be borne personally by the executor.