Dealing with the loss of a spouse is one of the most difficult situations a person can face. The grief alone can be crippling and adding to the stress is the need to deal with funeral arrangements and any other tasks that may have arisen during your spouse’s final illness. And if you’re like most married couples in the United States, you’ve probably also been named as the person to manage your spouse’s estate and affairs after your spouse dies. This role is commonly referred to as the Executor (in California it is called a Personal Representative) but goes by other names depending on the state you are in or the type of estate planning your spouse had in pace (for example, when dealing with a trust, your role would be as a successor trustee). For convenience and familiarity sake, in this article we will use the term Executor.
Most people make the decision to name their spouse as Executor without thinking about it, but there are several skills and qualifications that are required to perform the task. Your responsibility as Executor after your spouse dies is to either fulfill the obligations expected of you as Executor or to pass on those responsibilities to a Successor Executor. That being said, not everyone is immediately ready to serve in this important role. That’s why we’ve put together this list to help you serve as Executor of your spouse’s estate.
The single most important thing an Executor can do in this situation is to stay organized. You will be dealing with many complicated financial and probate forms, the latter of which requires an accurate accounting of all estate assets before and after they’ve been distributed to beneficiaries. Most Orange County probate attorneys will suggest tracking expenses and other matters relating to the estate in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet since it’s designed to help you stay organized and easily understand the financial condition of the estate. However, if you’re not used to keeping track of finances or you’re unfamiliar with Excel, this may prove to be a difficult task. If this is the case, you may want to…
Speak with an Experienced Estate Attorney
Most estate attorneys have a great deal of experience administering estates and can assist you in keeping track of all the assets. They can also help you avoid the pitfalls that come along with being an Executor of an estate. The probate process is complicated and confusing, so it might benefit you to have an experienced professional available to assist you in these matters.
Consider Who Will Serve in Your Place
While your spouse named you as the Executor of his or her estate, there are some circumstances that can prevent you from serving in that capacity. Provisions are typically made in the Last Will and Testament that allow Executors to pass on their responsibilities to Successor Executors; however, you should consult with an estate attorney to discuss the best options for your situation.
If you’ve been named as the Executor of an estate and you need assistance with administration, or if you would like to review your current Last Will and Testament to make sure you are comfortable with your choice of Executor, please call us at (949) 333-3702 to set up an initial consultation with one of our Orange County probate attorneys.
Do You Have Any Questions?
Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and a trust attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help families from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Southern California plan to protect what matters most: their loved ones, their dignity, and their legacy.