When you create your Last Will and Testament you will have to make a number of decisions. Although you may not realize it, one of the most important of those is the appointment of your Executor. To help you better understand why you should choose your Executor carefully, the staff at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law discuss the duties of a Sacramento Executor.
- Initiating the Probate Process. As soon after your death as possible, your Executor must locate an original copy of your Will as well as obtain several certified copies of your death certificate. Both of those documents, along with a petition to open the probate of your estate, must be submitted to the appropriate probate court to get the probate process started. Unless your estate is small enough to qualify for an alternative to formal probate, your Executor will likely retain the services of an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney to help at this point; however, your Executor will remain responsible for overseeing the probate of your estate.
- Managing Estate Assets. Your Executor must identify and locate all estate assets. All assets, however, are not required to go through the probate process. Consequently, your Executor must review all assets and decide which ones are probate assets and which are non-probate assets. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held by a trust, proceeds of an insurance policy, and certain types of jointly held property. Your Executor is also responsible for securing and managing all estate assets throughout the probate of the estate. Securing assets might include things such as:
- Taking possession of vehicles
- Locking up real estate
- Speaking to employees at a business and arranging for continued operations.
- Closing out financial accounts
- Paying Estate Claims. Next, your Executor is required to notify all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be contacted personally; however, notice must also be given to unknown creditors. This is accomplished by publishing a notice of probate in a local newspaper. Creditors then have a statutory period of time within which they must file claims against the estate. Your Executor must review all claims and approve or deny each one. Approved claims must then be paid out of estate assets. If your estate lacks sufficient liquid assets to pay all creditors, your Executor must decide which assets to sell to raise the needed funds. If the estate lacks sufficient assets to pay all creditors, creditors are paid according to priority.
- Defending the Estate. Sometimes, someone files a challenge to your Will, alleging that the Will is invalid for one reason or another. If that happens, your Executor is required to defend the Will throughout the ensuing litigation. Your Executor may also be required to represent your estate if a creditor appeals a denial of claim. Although your Executor will undoubtedly hire an experienced and qualified attorney to represent your estate if the estate does become involved in litigation, your Executor remains responsible for the overall outcome.
- Calculating Estate Taxes. Every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes as well as state taxes if applicable. Your Executor is responsible for calculating, preparing, filing, and paying (if applicable) all state and federal taxes. This can be a cumbersome job that often requires the assistance of additional professionals such as attorneys and accountants.
- Transferring Ownership and Distributing Assets. At the end of the probate process, your Executor’s last duties include filing a final inventory with the probate court, if required to do so, and effectuating the legal transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about the duties of a Executor, contact the Probate Staff at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Lawby calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.
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