Estate planning is a matter of practical necessity, but for some, establishing a solid estate plan can seem challenging. While writing a last will and testament is often the simplest way to save an estate from the rigors of an intestate succession, somebody has to ensure that the decedent’s wishes are honored, that inheritances are distributed to deserving heirs, and that debts are paid.
In California, the task of initiating probate and dissolving an estate is typically delegated to an executor. Without a competent executor, an estate could be compromised by unexpected delays, uncertainty, and even litigation.
The Role of an Executor in California Successions
An executor, or personal representative, has a wide range of responsibilities that includes initiating probate in the correct jurisdiction and letting heirs and creditors know that proceedings have begun. But there are more tasks the executor must take care of, including:
- Inventorying and managing the deceased person’s estate assets
- Paying the estate’s remaining debts
- Defending the estate from any potential challenges
- Distributing inheritances and bequeathing gifts to the decedent’s named beneficiaries
Since probate is a time-sensitive process, an executor’s decisions can have far-ranging consequences. Any delay, no matter how minor, could cost an estate thousands of dollars in fines, penalties, and fees.
The Golden State’s Legal Requirements for Executors
California state law requires that a personal representative be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind. Unlike some states, California does not otherwise restrict who can and cannot serve as an estate executor. While California has few legal requirements for serving as an executor, choosing the right estate representative could still prove challenging. Before making a commitment, there are important questions to consider.
Can My Executor Travel to Court?
Executors do not have to live in California. However, nominating an out-of-state executor could delay probate proceedings, especially if the estate is contested and the personal representative is required to regularly travel to court. While executors are entitled to an allowance from the estate, they may be required to bear the cost of cross-country flights, overnight stays, and other travel-related expenses.
Do I Trust My Personal Representative?
California’s probate courts oversee the administration and dissolution of estates. However, courts have limited oversight and do not actively supervise an executor’s day-to-day activities. Since executors must manage an estate’s finances and accurately inventory its assets, a personal representative should be somebody that you trust to make good-faith decisions about your investments, properties, and bank accounts.
Does My Estate Executor Know How to Initiate Probate?
You do not need to name a licensed attorney as your executor, but your personal representative should be at least somewhat familiar with the California Probate Code and its expectations for executors. Almost every step in the probate process is deadline-driven and time-sensitive. Even simplified proceedings necessitate that an executor:
- File a petition to initiate probate within weeks of the decedent’s death
- Send notices to the deceased person’s heirs, creditors, and other interested parties
- Respond timely to creditor requests for repayment
- Resolve disputes as they arise
California state law broadly mandates that executors complete succession within a year. If probate lasts longer than expected, heirs can be left waiting for much-needed inheritances, and the personal representative could be held liable for mismanagement or breach of fiduciary duty.
Can My Personal Representatives Resolve Disputes?
Even simple probate proceedings can be complicated by disputes between heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors. While many of these disputes can be resolved without the need for litigation, executors must still be prepared to adjudicate disagreements, advocate for the decedent’s intent, and defend the estate’s interests. Since executors could find themselves at odds with their own friends and family, a prospective personal representative should be rational, impartial, and objective.
Do You Need To Speak With An Estate Planning Attorney?
If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.