It is an honor to be appointed as Executor in a will, though the legal duties of an Executor are weighty, important, and often complex. If you have been named Executor in a decedent’s will in California, an important first step is starting the probate process. This is essential because you have no duties or powers unless and until the court appoints you as Executor, even though you’ve been appointed to serve in that role in a will document.

You must first file a Petition for Probate with the court. If you receive a court order that appoints you as Executor, Letters Testamentary will also be issued. Your legal authority to carry out the legal duties of an Executor is provided through the Letters Testamentary. Once your role is officially sanctioned through the court, the following are among your legal duties as an Executor.

Fiduciary Duty 

As Executor, you have a responsibility as the administrator of the decedent’s estate to protect the best interests of the beneficiaries. In California, Executors are held to a strict fiduciary duty. Your dealings in the administration of the estate must be fair, honest, impartial, and of benefit to the heirs of the estate, not to you. If you are found to be in breach of your fiduciary duty as Executor, you could be held personally liable. It is critical that you consult attorneys experienced in estate planning and probate to ensure that you handle the decedent’s affairs with prudence.

How to Carry Out the Duties of an Executor

The responsibilities you have as an Executor can be intimidating, but you don’t need to carry out your duties alone. At the estate’s expense, you have the option to hire professionals that will assist you carrying out your duties responsibly. In addition to using estate funds to hire an attorney, you can also hire property managers, accountants, insurance brokers, and other industry experts. When surrounded with professionals who are well-versed with the administration of an estate, your duties become much easier.

Probate Court Approval & Estate Appraisal

As Executor of an estate, you must remember that a court order is required for all actions and there are strict timelines. The appraisal of the estate must be completed with the court’s approval within 120 days. One of the first orders of business for an Executor is to begin the process so that the probate appraiser can complete appraisal of the estate within that time-frame.

Creditors are a Top Reason for Probate

Probate in California is primarily about ensuring that creditors are paid from a decedent’s estate prior to any funds disbursed to beneficiaries.  Therefore, a legal duty of an Executor is to serve notice of the probate to all known creditors. Each of the creditors must receive a copy of the creditor claim form from you. They must, in turn, submit their claims to the probate court.

A List of Legal Duties of an Executor 

While not always typical in every probate situation,there are numerous legal duties of an Executor. For example, the Executor is in charge of defending the estate if legal action is brought against it. If a claim is made against the assets of the estate and the Executor contests it, a formal procedure must be followed, including contesting the claim in court, as necessary.

Typical Duties of an Executor

There are many responsibilities for an Executor involved with handling virtually any estate, and they include the following:

  • Locating all estate assets and ensuring that they don’t lose value.
  • Paying ongoing expenses such as mortgage payments and utility bills.
  • Paying income taxes that become due plus any other taxes owed.
  • Handling a myriad of daily details, such as terminating leases and other outstanding contracts, notifying governmental agencies, and more. 
  • Supervising the distribution of assets.
  • Locating beneficiaries and keeping them advised of estate progress. 
  • Establishing estate bank accounts, as necessary, to ensure continuing income of the estate.
  • Paying the necessary expenses to maintain estate assets.

Contact The Legacy Lawyers

The Legacy Lawyers, P.C., specialize in helping Executors carry out their responsibilities while avoiding liability. It can be very costly if an Executor is found in breach of duty. Our team of experts at The Legacy Lawyers will help to ensure that probate administration is carried out efficiently and in the best interests of beneficiaries. Call us today at (800) 840-1998 to make an appointment and discuss the legal duties of an Executor and what your next steps should be.