A friend or loved one has died and you are the Executor. Long ago you agreed to serve, but what did you get yourself into? What exactly does an Executor do?
Luckily, there are lots of lists of Executor's duties available online – just Google "checklist when someone dies in California." You will find checklists published by such reliable sources as AARP, Consumer Reports and the L.A. Times. But there are topics not covered by the lists.
As you work your way through the tasks of notifying the banks, you may be asked to provide a copy of your "Letters" or "Letters Testamentary." This is a Court document issued in a Probate. But there may not be a Probate, in which case, you will likely need to provide a "Small Estate Affidavit." In California, a decedent's estate can be administered without a Probate if the value of the assets is not more than $166,250. This threshold amount does not include assets held in a Trust or assets that are payable to a named beneficiary (such as life insurance, retirement accounts or bank or brokerage accounts payable to a beneficiary.)
Before paying last bills, be sure to understand how much money is available and the total amount of debts owed. Will assets have to be liquidated or sold to pay bills? Is there enough money to pay all the bills? If not, you should get legal advice before you pay any of the bills. And, nothing should be distributed to the beneficiaries until all the decedent's debts are satisfied. That includes setting aside a reserve to pay final income taxes due in April of the next year. Contact an accountant to help you with the taxes.
Lists can be helpful, but it is guaranteed there will still questions and complications. And, even with a list to guide you, the job can seem overwhelming. A good trusts and estates attorney can demystify the process and advise you. If the assets are over the Probate threshold, you will need an attorney to help you file for the Probate.
Planning Ahead Column:
By Lisa Alexander, Esq.
Jakle & Alexander, LLP,
1250 Sixth Street, Suite 300, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Main Line: 310-395-6555