When a testator drafts her will, she not only names individuals to inherit her property, but also appoints someone to complete the administrative task of transferring assets to heirs. This person -- called the executor -- carries out the testator's instructions while complying with requisite legal procedures. She owes duties to the deceased testator, the heirs and the court that prohibit any in-dealing or dishonesty. After the testator's death, the executor files the will in probate and begins administering the estate.
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Locate the probate court administering the will. Check first with the court in the county where the testator resided at death. Telephone the court to determine the probate search procedures in place. Some courts, like Los Angeles, maintain a probate telephone line. You phone in, enter the name or date of birth of the deceased and receive probate information including the probate number. Other jurisdictions provide an interactive Internet site while all offer information to members of the public appearing at the court clerk's window.
Visit the court clerk's office during regular business hours. Provide the court clerk with the probate file number and ask to see the file. The clerk provides the file and advises you where to review it. If the court recently opened probate, the file contains only a few documents. Review the documents. First determine whether the executor filed the will. In many jurisdictions, the law allows heirs to file the will in probate court, although an executor steers it through administration.
Note the executor's name, address and phone number, if the executor filed the will. If an heir deposited the will in probate court, review the will provisions to ascertain whether the testator named an executor. Although many wills name executors, the court does not void a will that fails to appoint an executor. If an executor's name appears in the will, look further in the documents for notice that the executor accepted the appointment.
Review the probate filings to locate a document appointing an executor. The court appoints an executor if the named executor is unable or declines to serve, or if the will fails to name an executor. If no document appears, the court has yet to make an appointment. Check back periodically until the file reflects the name, address and phone number of a court appointed executor.
Tips & Warnings
If you are an heir under the will, the executor contacts you when she opens probate.
References & Resources
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