Find the original will or living trust signed by the person who died (known as the “Testator” or “Settlor”). The will or trust may name you as the Executor (or Trustee).
In your capacity as the named Executor, file a “Petition for Letters” in the Probate Court where the Testator died or owned property. Generally, as the person filing the Petition, you would be required to notify all of the Testator’s immediate next of kin. You may also be required to post a bond to protect the beneficiaries’ and creditors’ interests.
Attend the hearing scheduled for your Petition to be set by the Probate Court upon giving notice to all of the Testator’s immediate next of kin. At the hearing, you may be asked to prove to the Court’s satisfaction that the document filed is actually the Testator’s Last Will and Testament. Proof is often provided by witnesses to the Testator’s signature on the Will. A “self-proving” affidavit incorporated within the body of some wills is sometimes sufficient proof of the Testator’s signature. You may also be asked to satisfy the Court that the Testator did not execute another, subsequent Will, which would result in the document filed not being the Testator’s most recent Will.
Get Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration from the Probate Court, which is the Court Order formally appointing you as the Executor or Administrator of the Estate.
Do what is lawful and necessary to diligently carry out the provisions of the Will.
Begin immediately. Some decisions must be made quickly. For example, within nine months the estate may have to file an Estate Tax Return. Furthermore, as the Executor, you have a duty to collect and maintain the Estate assets and any delay may make it harder to locate and preserve assets.
Consult with an attorney experienced in Probate Law.
You should also consult with an accountant because as the Executor you assume the responsibility to ensure the payment of the Testator’s personal income taxes as well as taxes on income earned by the Estate following the Testator’s death but before distribution among the beneficiaries. Estate taxes may be owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
You may wish to go directly to a probate attorney. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259. Want to discuss how to probate a will in California or find out more about death and taxes? Call now.