How to Be Appointed the Personal Representative for the Deceased in California

By Abby Lane

Executors, also called personal representatives or administrators, handle a deceased person’s estate during the probate process. In every case, to be named executor of a California estate officially, you must ask, or petition, the California Superior Court in the county where the deceased lived.

Named Executor

Most wills name a specific person as the executor. In California, the named executor must be at least 18 years old and must not be subject to conservatorship, meaning another person cannot have been appointed by a court to make financial decisions for you, or otherwise unable to serve. If you are named the executor, you still must ask the court to appoint you as executor and issue your “letters.” Letters, or official documents from the court, give you the authority to act as executor of the estate.

No Will

If there is no will, you may ask the court to be appointed executor of the decedent’s estate. In such cases, the court may appoint you as executor if you are a resident of the United States and have priority, meaning you are related to the decedent more closely than other parties asking to be named executor. Generally speaking, surviving spouses have priority over children, who have priority over grandchildren, who have priority over great-grandchildren and so on. The California probate code provides an extensive list that details who has priority over whom.

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No Named Executor

If the will does not name an executor, the court follows the same procedures to appoint an executor as it does when there is no will at all. The court also follows these procedures if the person nominated to serve as executor is deceased, incapacitated or chooses not to serve.

Executor Duties

An executor is an officer of the court whose duties include making prudent investments with the estate’s assets, keeping its assets separate, and taking and filing an inventory of the estate. An executor must also keep meticulous records. Before the court issues your letters, it requires you to acknowledge your duties as the named executor on a special form to be submitted to the court. You also must take an oath promising to uphold those duties.


An executor's duties range in complexity, depending on the size of the estate and the potential beneficiaries. As such, you may be entitled to a fee for your services; the amount is often determined by the estate's value. Although you may be paid for your time, carefully consider whether you have the desire and skills to serve as executor before taking on the responsibility.

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How Does the Executor of an Estate Resign in California?


Related articles

How to Name an Executor or Personal Representative

An executor, also called a personal representative, is the person in charge of distributing property to heirs and settling a decedent's estate. A female appointed to handle an estate is sometimes called an executrix. Naming an executor in a will avoids the need for a court-appointed executor after death and usually saves the estate money. This is because court-appointed executors generally charge high fees in contrast to relatives or friends who are chosen to serve.

How to Appoint an Executor to Probate in California

An executor in California is a person who is nominated in a will to represent the deceased person’s estate and to carry out the instructions found in the will. A court must approve of the nomination before the nominee can serve as the executor. For most nominees, the court appointment is simply a matter of procedure, but problems can arise if the nominee elects not to serve or if someone contests the nomination.

What if the Executor of a Will Is Dead?

The person you name in your will to manage your estate is called the executor. Other terms include fiduciary or personal representative. This person's duties include gathering your assets, paying taxes and bills owed by your estate and distributing the remaining assets to your beneficiaries according to the terms of your will. If the person you named as the executor is not available or is unwilling to serve for any reason, your state's laws allow the court to appoint someone else as executor.

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