What does it mean to be the legal executor of a will?

FAQs on the legal duties California places on the legal executor answered

In the wake of a loved one's passing, there are numerous things to do. Loved ones must organize funeral arrangements, notify friends and family, clean up the home, and perform numerous other tasks. The sheer number of items can be daunting, especially when dealing with the grief associated with losing a loved one.

The executor of a will has even more responsibilities, including legal duties that must be followed. An executor is a person nominated by the deceased to distribute assets of the estate according to the terms of the will, trust, or according to California law if there is no estate plan in place. The duties associated with being an executor can be numerous and may last for months or even years.

I've been named the personal executor of an estate. Now what?

Just because a person is named as executor, he or she does not have to accept. If the named executor refuses, it will go to the alternate executor named in the will, or the probate court will name one, usually a family member.

The basic duties of an executor are to make sure the assets of the estate are distributed according to the terms of the will, after paying debts and taxes due. The executor must also notify government agencies, keep family members and beneficiaries up to date on the progress of the distribution, handle day-to-day finances of the estate such as terminating leases or selling property, and perform other legal and financial duties. Essentially, the personal executor acts as the business owner of the estate. Generally, the executor hires professionals - using the estate's money - to help with the technical aspects of distributing the estate.

Can a personal executor be removed?

Yes. If a personal executor does not perform the required legal duties, beneficiaries and loved ones can petition the court to have the personal executor removed. However, there must be a valid legal reason to have the executor removed. A beneficiary cannot simply argue to the court that the personal executor was not the right choice. However, if the executor behaves incompetently, dishonestly, wastes funds, or otherwise acts in a way that does not meet legal obligations, then a person who has an interest in the estate (i.e. is due some assets from the distribution of the estate) can ask the court to have the executor removed.

Can an executor be sued?

Yes. The executor of an estate must act as a fiduciary to the beneficiaries of the estate and the estate itself. This means that the executor must act with the best interests of the estate and beneficiaries always in mind. If an executor does not do so, he or she is liable for a breach of fiduciary duty. This duty extends for years; if an executor commits fraud, such as by hiding assets from beneficiaries, the intended beneficiaries can sue even years after the distribution of an estate. The liability also extends to personal assets of the executor.

Get legal and professional help

This broad overview of an executor's duties is by no means comprehensive. Distributing an estate often involves complex financial transactions, and the exact duties of an executor depend on the estate, the beneficiaries, and other unique circumstances.

If you need help in distributing an estate according to California law or have questions on whether an executor is acting according to the laws of the state, contact the experienced estate and probate attorneys at The Mullin Law Firm.