IMPORTANT TIPS FOR THE EXECUTOR OF AN ESTATE
June 11, 2022
Suppose you’ve been named the personal representative in someone’s last will and testament, and the person has just passed away. It is now your responsibility to present the will to the Superior Court where the decedent resided. The court will then oversee probate proceedings to administer the will, and you will be named executor of the estate.
Administering a will through probate court is not something that most people are naturally prepared for, as it can involve inventorying the decedent’s estate, establishing the value of the estate’s assets, and perhaps selling off assets to pay debts, taxes, and named beneficiaries. In between, there will be constant interaction with the court and the filing of reports to cover what you’ve been doing.
Along the way, you may need to call upon the help of attorneys, appraisers, accountants, auctioneers, and perhaps even real estate brokers. If you are the executor of a will in or around Redlands, California, the probate and estate planning attorneys at the Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC stand ready to answer all your questions and assist you in every step of the process. The firm proudly serves clients throughout Southern California, including Redlands, Riverside, Rancho Cucamonga, and Palm Springs.
THE PROBATE PROCESS: WHAT IT DOES
Those who die with a will—and those who do not—must have their estates administered through probate court, which in California is the Superior Court in the county in which the decedent lived. Probate proceedings are designed to make sure that all obligations of the decedent, including debts, taxes, and other liabilities, are taken care of before the named beneficiaries receive what the will specifies they should receive.
When it comes to paying off debts, creditors have four months after being notified of probate proceedings to file their claim. Thus, probate proceedings must last at least four months. In most cases, probate should be completed in less than a year unless there are complications with taxes or challenges by creditors or beneficiaries.
TIPS FOR PROBATE ADMINISTRATION
The best tip for an executor of a will is to have an experienced probate attorney as a partner and legal navigator to successfully complete the process. Some of the steps you can complete on your own, and others will require experienced guidance. Often, the reports required by the probate court can be complex and challenging.
Since the executor is the one who must present the will to the court, locating the will is the first step. In most cases, the personal representative named in the will should already have a copy to present to the court, but if not, the attorney who helped the decedent draft the document should have one. You generally have 30 days after the decedent’s demise to file the will.
You may also need to obtain a copy of the death certificate, which must be forwarded to the Social Security Administration (along with the last payment received by the decedent), and to other institutions such as the Veterans Administration, a life insurance company, the fiduciary for a retirement account, and other financial institutions.
After you have filed with the probate court, you must then notify all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors that the probate process has begun. As mentioned, creditors then have four months to present their claims. Locating creditors, of course, might prove a bit challenging, so you may have to sort through the decedent’s mail and documents kept at home.
At this point, a would-be beneficiary may decide to challenge the will on grounds that it is invalid. They can claim that the will was done under the undue influence of another beneficiary, that the will was completed when the decedent lacked the mental capacity, or that there are competing versions of the will. You’re absolutely going to need the help of an experienced probate attorney to help you navigate these issues. Challenges to a will’s validity can tie up matters in court while a legal resolution is sought by both sides.
Additionally, the executor needs to inventory all assets of the decedent’s estate. Some assets will pass outside of probate to named beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts; jointly held real property will transfer immediately to the co-owner. The other assets must be inventoried, and an estate bank account established in which to place cash or proceeds from sales. If some assets need to be sold to cover debts, taxes, or other obligations, then those assets will need to be appraised and sold.
When all obligations have been met and the probate court gives its consent, then the beneficiaries named in the will can receive what is due them under the terms of the will. This is the last step of the process of closing out the administration of the estate.
SKILLED & COMPASSIONATE COUNSEL FOR PROBATE PROCEEDINGS
The attorneys at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC can assist and guide you through every step of the probate process. With more than three decades of experience, the firm can help you sort through the details and requirements of probate proceedings using accumulated knowledge and genuine compassion for others. Contact an attorney immediately if you’re about to enter probate as an executor. The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC proudly serves clients in Redlands and throughout Southern California, including Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs.