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By: Cava and Faulkner

How Do I Choose an Executor?

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Creating a will is an essential part of estate planning. With your will, you determine how your assets will be distributed after your death. However, determining who receives what isn’t the only important of making a will legally binding–you also need a trusted executor. Without that, the will may not be carried out as you wish. Here’s what you need to know about selecting an executor.

What Does an Executor Do?

Many people think an executor is a person who distributes the estate according to the specifications in the deceased’s will. That’s true, but that’s not all that an executor does. Depending on the size of the estate, they can have many other responsibilities, including:

  • Filing a copy of the will with the
  • Notifying all relevant organizations of the death, including credit card companies, banks, and government agencies such as the Veterans Administration or the Social  Security Administration. Note: Many funeral homes will notify Social Security, but the executor should follow up to ensure this is done.
  • Set up and manage a bank account for the estate to handle incoming deposits and disburse funds, such as bills that are still owed. Then the executor can pay the estate’s debts and taxes.
  • Provide a detailed inventory of assets and their values to the court (required in California).
  • Maintain property until it’s distributed or sold. This includes the upkeep of things like homes, cars, etc.
  • Oversee the distribution of the assets according to the terms of the will.

Who Can Legally Be an Executor in California?

There are two significant requirements for who can be named executor of a will in California: They must be at least 18 years old, and they must be deemed of sound mind (in other words, a court wouldn’t find them mentally incapacitated).

While some states don’t allow convicted felons to serve as executors, California has no such restriction. However, the state’s courts have the right to question the validity of anyone appointed as executor and assign a new one if they find the estate is mismanaged due to negligence or deliberate actions that violate the will.
Also, unlike other states, California doesn’t prohibit people from other states from becoming executors. However, if the estate is large or complex, having someone local makes more sense, as they’ll need to be on hand for court hearings and other in-person activities.

It’s important to understand that an executor doesn’t have to be just one person, or just individuals. If there are no individuals you feel can manage your estate in your absence, you could also name an attorney or accountant, or even a bank.

What Else Should I Consider When Choosing an Executor for My Will?

Once you’ve created a list of candidates that adheres to California’s requirements (above), the process becomes more individualized. There are several considerations when selecting the right person (or, in some cases, organization).

  • Choose someone reliable and responsible. Basically, you’re trusting this person with all your worldly goods. You need to have faith that they will execute your wishes the way you want them to, not how they think you should have.
  • Look for someone whose own finances are in good shape. Someone struggling financially might be tempted to take advantage of the executorial role and manipulate the estate to their benefit.
  • Find someone who’s highly organized and able to meet deadlines. Large, complicated estates require someone capable of organizing them. In addition, California can have deadlines that must be met, so the executor needs to organize their efforts in such a way as to meet those deadlines.
  • Think twice about family. While many people turn to family members as executors, this can be fraught, especially if there are family members who don’t get along. Emotions can run high and lead to dissent and disputes. Those can drag the estate distribution out much longer than necessary and potentially end up costing a lot more, meaning some of the assets are spent on legal fees rather than being disbursed to heirs.
  • Consider having someone younger than you be the executor. While there are no guarantees about how long someone will live, choosing a younger executor at least provides the possibility that they won’t die before you do.
  • It can be someone named in the will. This is often the case. However, if you’re leaving all of the estate (or a significant portion of it ) to one person, it’s better to have someone else as executor.
  • Discuss the role of the executor with the person you want. You may think you’ve found the perfect executor, but they, in turn may feel they’re not up to the responsibility. Having a discussion before finalizing the will is key to avoiding problems later.

Do Executors Get Paid in California?

California law provides compensation for people acting as executors, entitling them to the following:

  • 4% of the total value of the estate up to the first $100,000
  • 3% of the second $100,000
  • 2% on the following $800,000
  • 1% on the following $9 million
  • 5% on the following $15 million

The courts also determine a reasonable amount for any estate valued at more than $25 million.

What Should I Do if I Need Help Choosing an Executor for My Will?

Call us at 916-685-1225 for a free consultation. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable attorneys can walk you through the considerations at stake in your estate and its disposal. We will ask questions that will identify both potential positives and negatives for any candidates to be your executor. Choosing an executor for the will can be a complicated, sometimes emotional process, and we’ll guide you through it thoroughly and compassionately.