Executors play a key role

One of the elements of probate under California law is the appointment of an executor. This is the person named in a will and whose job it is to take charge of and manage a deceased testator's estate. Once appointed, an executor must take control of the assets of the decedent, pay debts and taxes owed by the estate, and make certain that the assets are ultimately distributed according to the wishes of the testator.

The designation of an executor is a standard component of a valid will. Some individuals choose to have co-executors by naming more than one person, or they may name one person as the executor with another individual designated as an alternate to take over if the executor is unable to serve. After the death of the testator, the executor designated in the will does not have the power to act on behalf of the estate until a judge signs an order officially appointing the executor in a probate proceeding.

Not all assets owned by the testator go through probate. Many people set up trusts to pass along assets to named beneficiaries, and this is not part of the public probate process that can often be lengthy and expensive. Another type of asset that does not go through probate is a life insurance policy. The proceeds of such insurance are paid directly to the designated beneficiary.

An executor of a will has many other responsibilities besides the distribution of assets and is deemed a fiduciary to the will's beneficiaries. As executors are not presumed to be experts, they often obtain the advice of probate lawyers during the process.

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