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What an estate executor can and cannot do in California

| Jul 6, 2021 | Estate Planning

An estate executor has a ton of responsibilities – from notifying the dependents to managing and distributing assets according to the will. However, there are limits to what this individual or entity can and cannot do. If you have been nominated as an executor in California, there are a couple of obvious rules you need to observe such as sticking to the provisions of the will and acting in the interests of the beneficiaries. 

Sounds simple, right?

Well, ideally, it should be simple. However, depending on the complexity of the estate in question, figuring out the limits of your role as an executor can be a huge challenge. 

Executor duties in California

As the estate’s nominated executor, your primary job involves managing the probate process. This means you will be engaging the probate court and making decisions on how to handle the probate assets. This will require you to:

  • Initiate the probate process with the court
  • Identify the assets mentioned in the will
  • Get in touch with the beneficiaries and interested parties
  • Oversee the administration of the estate
  • Settle the deceased debts from their estate
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries
  • Close the estate

The sheer amount of work involved is often startling to new executors.

What an executor cannot do in California

As a nominated executor, you owe the will’s beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. This means you are duty-bound to manage the estate in a prudent manner. As such, you cannot work against the interests of the estate’s beneficiaries. Here are some of the things you cannot do as an executor in California:

  • Implement the will before passing of the testator
  • Sign an unsigned will on behalf of the testator
  • Attempt to manage the estate before a formal appointment by the court
  • Sell off any assets before a prior agreement with the beneficiaries
  • Bar the beneficiaries from contesting the will
  • Change any provisions in the will

Being appointed as an estate executor is an enormous responsibility. However, the California probate and estate planning laws can be very complex and confusing. Engaging an experienced estate planning attorney from the onset can help you understand your duties and limitations and ensure that you carry out your task successfully.