If you have recently lost a relative who did not make a will or appoint an executor to fulfill their last wishes, there is a chance you may be asked to serve as the estate administrator. While administering a simple estate may not always pose a challenge in terms of legal risk, it may still be time-consuming and emotionally challenging. So, before accepting the position, you should understand the requirements and responsibilities of administering someone’s estate. California Estate Planning Attorney Kavesh Minor & Otis

The Role of a California Estate Administrator

If someone dies with a will and appoints a personal representative for their estate, that individual is called an estate executor. They would be responsible for notifying a California probate court of the death, then filing a copy of the decedent’s valid will for verification.

However, if someone dies without a will—or has a will that was revoked or declared invalid—the court has to appoint an individual to settle the estate’s affairs. This person is called an estate administrator. The responsibilities of an estate executor and administrator are very similar. An estate administrator must:

  • Notify prospective creditors of the person’s death
  • Track down, collect, inventory, and appraise the decedent’s personal assets
  • Responsibly manage the decedent’s assets until the estate’s affairs are settled
  • Pay any potential creditors outstanding debts owed by the estate
  • Distribute any remaining assets to beneficiaries
  • Close the estate before the probate court

If an estate administrator does not comply with California probate law or statutes of limitations, they may be held financially liable for damages.

Before Agreeing to Administer an Estate

Since administering an estate can be complicated and time-consuming, there are certain aspects of the job a prospective administrator should consider before agreeing to take the position. You might want to ask yourself:

  • Do I have the time to administer an estate?
  • Do I live locally or close enough to the decedent’s property to handle the necessary travel back and forth?
  • Do I have the time to learn about probate procedures, file court documents, and collect the decedent’s assets?
  • Am I motivated enough to see the process through, from start to finish?
  • Do I have the physical and/or emotional ability to do this while I am still grieving?

If a prospective estate administrator is not up to the task, an estate planning attorney may be able to assist them.

Who Else Can Become an Estate Administrator

Aside from an attorney, California also maintains an “order of priority” for selecting who can serve as an estate administrator. If someone dies without a will, California will begin contacting their closest blood relatives to serve as administrators. The partial list of priority is:

  1. Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren
  4. Great-grandchildren
  5. Parents
  6. Brothers and sisters

If a spouse refuses to serve as the estate administrator, the position will be offered to children, then grandchildren, and so on. If the court cannot find any relatives willing to act as the estate administrator, the position could be given to a civil servant—or even an estate creditor.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.