During the creation of your estate plan, you will need to make many decisions. While it is true that some of the most important of these decisions are related to what happens to your estate assets after you pass away, there are other equally important decisions that are not directly related to the distribution of your assets. Deciding who to appoint as your Executor is one of those decisions. People frequently appoint an Executor without giving the choice much thought and without realizing that your choice of Executor can directly impact the overall administration of your estate. To encourage you to give your choice of Executor the consideration it deserves, the Los Angeles attorneys at Schomer Law Group, APC provide you with a more thorough understanding of the job of Executor of the estate.
Why Does My Estate Need an Executor?
When you pass away, you will leave behind an estate that is comprised of the assets you owned at the time of your death. The law wants to make sure that your estate assets are identified and properly handled after your death, so your estate is required to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Someone must oversee the probate process. If a decedent executed a Last Will and Testament, the individual named as the Executor in that document is responsible for overseeing probate. In the absence of a Will (referred to as dying “intestate”), a judge must appoint a Personal Representative to fulfill essentially the same position as an Executor.
What Does an Executor Do?
One reason that people tend to appoint someone who might not be the ideal choice as their Executor is because they don’t really understand what an Executor is required to do. So, they just appoint someone they trust and leave it at that. Once you get a clearer picture of the numerous and varied duties and responsibilities of an Executor you will hopefully understand why it is important to appoint the right person to the position. The probate process is unique to the estate being probated; however, there are some commonalities with regard to what an Executor does during the formal probate process for most estates, including:
- Locating estate plan documents. One of the first things an Executor needs to do is gather all estate planning documents, which may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, retirement plan and financial statement, titles and deeds, and anything else that might be needed during the probate of the estate.
- Obtaining certified death certificates. Several certified copies of a decedent’s death certificate are typically needed during probate. For a death that occurred in California, certificates can be obtained from the California Department of Health.
- Securing and valuing assets. The Executor should quickly identify and secure all estate assets. A date of death value will also be needed for each asset. This may involve consulting professionals, such as a real estate or antiques appraiser.
- Initiating probate. Even though the Executor was appointed in the decedent’s Will, a judge must formally appoint the Executor and provide him/her with Letters Testamentary that provide the legal authority needed to act as Executor. Initiating probate is the first step toward getting the necessary appointment. To initiate probate, an original Will along with a certified death certificate and petition needs to be filed with the probate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death.
- Identifying and communicating with beneficiaries and heirs. The Executor should identify named beneficiaries in a Will and legal heirs of the estate pursuant to California intestate succession laws. Each of the beneficiaries/heirs should be notified that probate is underway.
- Notifying creditors. Creditors of the estate are also entitled to notification, either individually or via publication in a local newspaper.
- Reviewing claims. Claims filed by creditors must be reviewed by the Executor and approved or denied.
- Litigating disputes. Disputes can occur during probate. Challenging the validity of the Will is the most common dispute; however, creditors can also dispute a claim or disputes can occur among heirs. The Executor is responsible for defending the estate and the Will submitted for probate.
- Paying claims, including taxes. One of the last steps before transferring assets to beneficiaries is to pay claims, fees, and taxes. The Executor is responsible for preparing federal gift and estate tax returns, calculating any tax due, and making sure the tax is paid.
- Distributing assets. Finally, the Executor may prepare the necessary documents to transfer the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estate.
Do You Need Help Choosing the Executor of Your Estate?
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you need assistance deciding who to appoint as the Executor of your estate, contact the experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorneys at Schomer Law Group APC by calling (310) 337-7696 to schedule an appointment.