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Estate administration and fiduciary duties

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2021 | Estate Planning And Litigation |

When a California resident passes away, there are a variety of tasks that will need to be performed with respect to the decedent’s estate. These include the location of assets, the notification of creditors, the payment of outstanding bills, the filing of income and estate tax returns, and, ultimately, the distribution of the estate to heirs and beneficiaries.

In many cases, this role is fulfilled by the executor who is named in the decedent’s will. If no such person was named, or if the decedent dies without a valid will, then the probate court will select an administrator. Regardless of the title, this person is required to act for the benefit of the estate and the beneficiaries, and as such acts in a fiduciary capacity.

Responsibilities of the estate administrator

The estate administrator temporarily holds and manages all assets in the deceased person’s estate. During this time, the person works to settle all debts belonging to the estate and then, when the affairs have been wrapped up, distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will or, absent one, the state laws pertaining to intestacy.

It is critical that the administrator carries out these duties in a professional manner. Should they fail to do so, they can face significant liability.

Who is often selected to fulfill this role?

It is not uncommon for a spouse or other close family member to be named as an executor, and when the probate court is required to make the selection, the choice is quite often the same. However, professionals such as accountants or attorneys are often chosen, but regardless of who occupies the position, the duties remain the same, and a breach of them can give rise to legal action initiated by a party to whom those duties were owed and who was harmed as a result.

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