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What is the executor's responsibility during probate?

If you are the executor of an estate going through probate your responsibilities can feel overwhelming -- especially if you've never had to complete the process before. For one, you'll be carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders, and if you make a mistake, you could be liable for your errors. Secondly, you might encounter various tasks that you don't understand how to complete -- such as navigating taxes, financial statements, real estate sales, property estimates and more.

In order to better familiarize you with the various responsibilities of an executor during probate, make sure you review the following list.

1. Obtain the original will

You'll first need to locate the original will that was filed and signed by the decedent. Hopefully, this can be found in an obvious place in the individual's home. The decedent's attorney may also have a copy of the will. In addition, you'll want to obtain any later re-writes of the will to find the most up-to-date version.

2. Begin the probate process

The executor will need to file several legal forms to officially begin the probate process. The executor needs to draft, execute and file these forms with the probate court.

3. Close up accounts

It's important to cancel any bank or credit cards to ensure that no one tries to steal the decedent's identity or make further charges on the credit cards.

4. Contact government entities and notify them of the death

The executor must notify appropriate government entities of the decedent's death. This includes the IRS, Social Security and other entities. In addition, the executor must finalize the decedent's final IRS filing.

5. Gather, estimate and take care of assets and liabilities

The executor must make a list of assets and liabilities that belong to the estate. If liabilities are outstanding, the executor will use the estate assets to pay them off. It may be necessary to liquidate certain assets to pay off outstanding debts.

If you're confused about being an executor: Reach out for help

Many executors contract a probate attorney to help them navigate the complexity of the legal proceedings ahead of them. In some cases, a lawyer will take most of the above responsibilities off the executor's hands. Ultimately, though, the more the executor knows about California probate law, the better equipped he or she will be at navigating the probate process.

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