The executor must file a document called the “Petition for Probate” with the court having jurisdiction where the decedent lived. The petition includes details about the decedent, about the executor, and information about the heirs. The size of the estate must also be included along with a statement about whether a surety bond is required or waived by the will. The heirs must be given a formal notice that the probate process has been started. If there is a will, then it must be proven to be valid, and this requirement is usually satisfied by having the witnesses to the will signing providing a sworn statement which is submitted to the court.
The court will then issue “Letters of Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration” which appoints an executor or an administrator and grants this person authority over the assets of the estate. This authority stipulates that the person appointed also has responsibility to keep the assets safe, keep real estate property insured and maintained, and heirlooms safeguarded.
The executor will begin an accounting of the assets and compile a complete inventory and appraisal of each asset for filing with the court. The total value of the assets will need to be determined and filed with the court along with the inventory. The executor must pay outstanding debts and ensure that all tax returns are filed.
Some assets may be liquidated by the executor to pay debts and taxes. The state law allows the executor to handle most matters without first obtaining permission from the court. Some actions such as selling real estate require prior court approval. If the heirs include siblings of the decedent, then their approval must be obtained before the real estate can be sold.
When all debts and taxes have been paid and the assets have been converted into cash or some other form of transferable assets, then the executor will ask the court to close the estate. A final accounting must be made to the court before the assets are transferred.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide a general summary of laws in the State of California and should not be construed as a legal opinion nor a complete legal analysis of the subject matter. Noelle Minto is an attorney at NM Law, APC in Tustin, California, a law firm specializing in Trusts & Estates and Business Transactions.