As a California executor duties lawyer can tell you, it is important to understand the responsibility of being appointed as an executor of an estate. An executor plays many different important roles in the closing out of a person’s estate after they have passed away. Executor duties require good planning and organization and should be properly understood both by the person naming an executor as well as the person established in that role so that all rules can be followed. In California, the rules related to the appointment of an executor as well as their duties and responsibilities are found in CA Prob Code § 8400 et seq.
Understanding Fiduciary Duty in California
When you are nominated as the executor of a will, you have a fiduciary duty to adhere to the terms of the will under California law. This duty can impose personal viability upon you as an executor should you fail to perform your duties as required. This liability can even last for years or decades beyond the death of the executor.
Role of an Executor in California
An entity or a person who is appointed to administer the estate of a party as directed by a will is known as an executor. A person who is nominated as an executor does not necessarily need to accept the nomination since it is up to that person’s decision making ability. They can refuse to be an executor and then it becomes the court’s responsibility to appoint a different person. Note that in California the Superior Court has jurisdiction over probate matters. CA Prob Code § 7050
The vast majority of people who are appointed as California executors, however, do accept the obligations and requirements imposed typically because they were appointed by a friend or a loved one. The role of serving as an executor can be a substantial one. You will need to gather all of the assets to include them in an inventory of the estate, publish notices and contact or identify any creditors to whom the deceased person owed money, liquidating any assets that need to be taken care of to allow for the payments of these obligations and distributing any remaining assets to heirs as named in the estate. This can be a very time consuming and involved process depending upon the complexity of the estate and whether or not any parties initiate a probate dispute.
Usually the executor is appointed in a will but in those cases in which the will does not name an executor, the court will need to appoint an administrator who performs the same function. The executor has the responsibility of meeting their fiduciary duties and complying with both terms of the will and the California legal requirements.
Although more than one executor can be appointed, each person is jointly and severally liable to perform the necessary duties in the estate. The fiduciary duty is one of the most important aspects of serving as an executor. A party must meet their duties and responsibilities under fiduciary duty in order to avoid personal liability. This refers to the same duty of care and good faith that a doctor has to a patient or a parent has to a child. It requires a degree of protective action to ensure that the recipient of their duties, in this case the beneficiaries of the will, are protected. This means that an executor cannot be involved in self-dealing or dishonesty and can face personal liability or removal from their position for breaching this. To learn more about the concept of fiduciary duty, contact an experienced executor duties attorney in California.
The practical duties of the executor include locating all assets of the estate and caring for them, paying the necessary expenses to maintain those assets, paying continuing expenses that are required to keep assets secure, such as mortgage payments or insurance, paying income taxes that are due at the state or federal level, handling day to day management of the estate closing out, such as terminating leases or other contracts or notifying governmental agencies, setting up the brokerage and bank accounts as necessary to keep income flowing, paying any estate taxes and supervising the distribution of assets and filing necessary petitions with the court.
If you have further questions about the process of serving as an executor, consult with an experienced executor duties attorney serving California to learn more about your role and how best to proceed.