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How to handle an estate properly as executor in California

When someone loves you and trust you, he or she may be willing to entrust you with important responsibilities. That could include naming you as the executor of one's estate in the last will or estate plan. Typically, people tend to discuss this decision with family members and loved ones before committing it to paper. However, it does happen that people find out after the death of a loved one that they were named executor.

Regardless of whether you have had years to prepare for this role or just found out about it after the death of someone you were close to, there are steps you can take to protect your role and the estate involved. Being proactive in handling the estate can cut down on issues, like a challenge that could drag you and the estate into probate.

Make sure that you understand the wishes of the deceased

The single most important elements in proper execution of someone's last wishes is taking the time to actually understand those wishes. Typically speaking, testators will leave behind explicit instructions about how to disperse their assets after their death. Sometimes however, the language used may be confusing or you may not understand which assets the last will refers to.

In a situation like this, your best option is to seek additional information. Reaching out to the attorney who helped draft the document could shed light on the intentions of the deceased. Alternatively, you may need to discuss unusual terms or assets with family members who can point you in the right direction.

Document everything and get receipts for each item

While you may feel confident that you are complying with the wishes of the deceased, you need to make sure that you properly document everything you do. Without documentation, you cannot prove that the right people receive the right assets. More importantly, other family members could accuse you of improper use of funds when, in reality, you are paying household bills on behalf of the estate.

You should maintain written or electronic receipts for every transaction you undertake as executor. You should also invest in a receipt book so that heirs can sign off on any physical items that they receive from the estate. Otherwise, you could face claims of taking physical objects or giving them to the wrong person. A physical, signed receipt helps you prove who received what from the estate.

If someone does choose to challenge your position, taking these two steps can help you defend your role as executor. Showing that you took the time to properly interpret the last will is important. Additionally, documentation can help establish that you have, in fact, performed your duties as required by California law.

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