When someone dies, their estate must be administered according to California law. This process can be complex and always requires the work of a a personal representative (generally referred to as an “executor” if there is a will and an “administrator” if there is no will). Here are some of their their statutory duties (i.e. duties set by law). They are considered a “personal representative” because they are representing the person who died.
Filing a petition with the court to be appointed as the personal representative
After the owner of the estate assets dies, the proposed personal representative decide whether they want to take on the role of the estate administrator or not. If there is a will, the person named executor has 30 days to begin to take action, or else they may be deemed to have given up their position as personal representative. They must file a petition with the court, asking to be appointed as the estate administrator or executor, as the case may be. In some cases, such as the needs to obtain immediate control of estate assets or potential probate litigation, the personal representative may be appointed immediately in a temporary capacity until the court hearing to appoint them as full administrator or executor.
Giving notice to the beneficiaries/heirs/interested parties
The personal representative must notify the beneficiaries, heirs, and other interested parties, as required by law, by mailing a notice of the hearing date on the petition to be appointed as personal representative, as well as a copy of the petition for such appointment. A failure to give proper notice will almost certainly delay the probate process. The notice must state that an estate representative seeks to be appointed and that the beneficiaries/heirs/interested have a right to contest the appointment of the personal representative if they so choose. Notice must also be given in a local newspaper of general circulation, and this notice must contain specific language set by law.
Taking inventory of the estate
The estate administrator will take inventory of all property the deceased owned. They will appraise the cash (because there is no true “appraisal”… cash is just cash) and a court appointed probate referee will appraise all other assets subject to probate (real property, vehicles, stocks, etc.) determine an accurate valuation of these assets on the decedent’s date of death.
Payment of debts and expenses of the estate
If the deceased has any debts, the personal representative must notify reasonably ascertainable creditors and settle any outstanding arrears. The personal representative must also file the decedent’s final income tax returns and make sure other taxes are up-to-date, as well as paying for costs of last illness, reimbursing family members for funeral expenses, and paying other costs associated with the deceased’s death.
Distribution of assets and closing of the estate
After settling all debts and expenses, the personal representative will distribute assets according to the deceased’s wishes (if there was a will) or according to the law. These distributions can only be made after filing a petition for final distribution with the probate court and receiving the court’s authority to make such distributions to the estate beneficiaries or heirs.
Acting as a personal representative involves a lot of work and legal liability. For this reason, personal representatives are entitled to compensation from the estate for their work. This compensation comes from the estate. Because acting as a personal representative involves significant legal liability, it is advisable to have an experienced probate lawyer (also paid by the estate’s assets) to help ensure you are fulfilling your statutory duties.