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Important Tips for Executor of an Estate

Law Office of Rodney Gould March 26, 2022

It is an honor to be named executor of someone’s estate. The will’s creator, or the probate court, is entrusting you with the responsibility of making sure the estate is administered according to the laws of California. It is not an assignment to be taken lightly.

Having the legal and financial knowledge necessary to administer the estate is one of the greatest concerns of estate representatives. Compliance with such issues can make an executor’s job overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Rodney Gould helps estate representatives in Los Angeles, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood, California, navigate the legal issues and processes of estate administration.

Here are some tips that will help lower the stress of such an important role.

Check on the spouse, minor children, and pets right away.

The needs of the decedent’s dependents or pets can’t wait until the estate is settled, so check on them right away. The will likely includes some sort of arrangement for the care of dependents, but people often overlook arranging for the care of their pets. You should make sure everyone is cared for, even if you have to make temporary arrangements pending the estate’s closure. Make sure you keep track of all expenditures you make so you can be reimbursed by the estate.

Take care of the decedent’s home if there is no one there to do it.

You will need to open mail, pay immediate bills such as utilities, water plants, check the answering machine, secure the home, and even empty the refrigerator. Cancel services, subscriptions, and memberships, such as phone plans, internet and cable services, magazines subscriptions, and gym memberships. Again, keep receipts for any expenditures so you can be reimbursed by the estate.

Notify those who need to know.

If there is a surviving spouse or adult children, they will likely contact family, friends, and the decedent’s employer about the death. However, if there is not, you will need to do that. Check the decedent’s address book or digital contacts to make personal and professional notifications. If the decedent was being treated for an illness, notify the healthcare provider.

You will also need to notify the decedent’s bank, creditors, and life insurance company. Inquire with the employer about benefits and notify Social Security. You will need a copy of the will or order of the court designating you as the estate representative to carry out many of these tasks.

Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate.

A certified copy of the death certificate will be required for a number of reasons, so you will need to obtain multiple copies. The funeral director will usually help facilitate this.

Gather other important documents.

You will need to gather many documents during the administration of the estate, in addition to the death certificate. These may include copies of:

  • The legal pronouncement of death from a physician or coroner;

  • The will or trust;

  • Life insurance policies;

  • Retirement account statements;

  • Titles and deeds;

  • Investment account information;

  • Credit card and other debt statements;

  • Bank and other financial statements; and,

  • Any other financial or estate planning documents.

Open a bank account for the estate.

You will need to open a bank account for the estate so you can deposit money into it and write checks for expenses out of it. Unless your name is on the decedent’s account, you will not be able to use their personal account.

Inventory all assets and debts.

Use the will or trust, the documents you gather, and the bills sent to the decedent to compile an inventory of all assets and debts.

Hire an estate planning or probate attorney.

From the very beginning, your job as the executor of an estate will be far less stressful if you hire a probate or estate planning attorney to guide you through the entire process. The cost of hiring one can be paid by the estate.

Communicate regularly with everyone involved.

Being transparent and communicating regularly with the probate or estate planning attorney, the court, beneficiaries, creditors, and others who have an interest in the estate will make your job easier. It can take some time to close an estate, so establish a system for communicating with everyone involved. You should also develop a list of all tasks that need to be done, any requests or assignments, and when each task is completed. Your attorney can help you develop a comprehensive list.

Do not disperse any assets to any beneficiary until all debts owed by the estate are satisfied or you have court approval.

In probate, taxes and debts are paid first. Beneficiaries receive the residual. You do not want to find yourself asking beneficiaries to return something, nor do you want to pay for something personally when the estate should. Only make distributions to beneficiaries after you have consulted with your attorney.

Do not let the beneficiaries or creditors rush you in this process.

Beneficiaries are often impatient with the probate process. They want their inheritance now and will push you to give them what they think they are owed. Creditors will attempt to apply pressure to get full repayment of the decedent’s debt. However, they may not be entitled to the full amount. Although you do not want to unnecessarily slow down the probate process, you need to take the time to do it correctly. You are honoring the wishes of the decedent, not yours, the beneficiaries’, or the creditors’.

Getting the Experienced Legal Guidance You Need

This is probably the first time you have served as the executor of an estate, so it is unfamiliar to you. Rodney Gould has provided legal counsel to dozens of estate representatives in and around Los Angeles, California. You can count on his experience and skills to make your job infinitely easier.

Don’t let the responsibility of being an estate representative overwhelm or discourage you. Call the Law Office of Rodney Gould today.