An executor takes charge of administering the estate of a deceased person. This involves collecting the assets, paying outstanding debts and distributing the estate to beneficiaries. In California, the Probate Code sets out the legal provisions regarding the process of administering an estate. For estates valued at greater than $100,000, the executor must seek the approval of the court before proceeding with the distribution of assets. Assuming the role of executor means you'll be responsible for a handful of documents and filings.
Appointment of Executor
A will often nominates an executor by name. In California, an executor nominated must also receive the validation of the court. The court will appoint an executor in certain circumstances, for example if the will does not name an executor or if the executor has died before the writer of the will. An executor may refuse to accept the nomination in the will. The court usually appoints the nearest relative of the deceased as executor in these circumstances. A court-appointed executor is referred to as an administrator.
The process of probate transfers assets from the deceased's estate to the beneficiaries named in the will or designated by law. Small estates, valued at less than $100,000, do not require the probate process. In California the Superior Court for the area where the deceased lived conducts the probate procedure. Unless the estate is valued at less than $100,000, the executor must file a petition with the court requesting formal appointment as executor. The court then arranges a date for a hearing. The executor must publish a notice providing the details of the court hearing at least three times in a local newspaper. He should also notify all the beneficiaries named in the will of the hearing.
The executor must post a surety bond with the court. The bond insures the estate against the executor mishandling the estate or misappropriating the assets. The executor pays the premium for the bond out of the estate assets.
At the court hearing the court formally appoints the executor and gives him permission to proceed with the administration of the estate. Once appointed, the executor must file a further document with the court, known as "letters testamentary." In this document the executor confirms his agreement to the appointment. The court also appoints a "probate referee" to value all the items in the deceased's estate.
Administering the Estate
The executor transfers legal title to the estate and prepares an inventory listing the assets of the deceased, with the assistance of the probate referee. He pays all debts owing on the estate, together with supplementary expenses such as funeral costs and court expenses.