California Executor Checklist

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

California Executor Checklist

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

In California, an executor is a person who administers and distributes a decedent's estate according to the terms of the decedent's will. The decedent specifically names the executor in the will, and the executor then has the responsibility of paying any of the decedent's outstanding debts and distributing their assets to the beneficiaries. Under California law, an executor can receive compensation for their duties from estate assets.

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How to Become an Executor

To begin the probate process, an interested party must file a copy of the decedent's will with the California Superior Court in the county of the decedent's residence. In California, a decedent's will nominates an executor. If the executor accepts the responsibility, they must file a petition with the court requesting appointment. The probate court formally appoints them after a noticed hearing. If a person does not want to be executor, the court appoints someone else, called an administrator, who is usually a close relative of the decedent.

Once appointed by the court, the executor assumes the power and fiduciary duty of adhering to the terms of the will. It is important to note that a fiduciary duty imposes personal liability upon the executor if they fail to perform the required duties. A fiduciary duty is the highest duty imposed by law; it requires the executor to ensure the protection of the beneficiaries and strictly prohibits self-dealing or dishonesty.

Collecting and Inventorying Property

Upon being appointed, the executor receives access to the decedent's property, including their bank accounts. The executor must locate and inventory all of the property that belongs to the decedent's estate, including cash, personal property, real estate, and securities such as investments or stock certificates. The executor must also collect any debts owed to the decedent, such as a final paycheck. The executor must care for these assets during distribution and pay any continuing expenses to keep the assets secure.

Paying Creditors

Before distributing an estate, the executor must pay off any outstanding debts that the decedent owed to creditors and file tax returns on behalf of the estate. If there are insufficient funds to pay creditors, the executor must sell estate property to raise the necessary amount.

Distributing Estate Assets

After paying estate debts, the executor must distribute the decedent's assets to the correct beneficiaries. If there are insufficient assets due to paying off debts, the probate court may apportion the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries based closely on the decedent's original intentions as stated in their will. If the estate is insolvent, the beneficiaries receive nothing.


In order to compensate the executor for their time and effort, California law allows executors and the estate's attorney to receive payment from estate funds. State law places a cap on the total amount paid to both parties using a sliding scale. The scale begins with 4 percent of the first $100,000 of the estate value and ends with half a percent of an estate valued over $10 million.

Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, serving as an executor in California can be a responsibility that carries great weight. To learn more about an executor's specific duties, you can consult an online legal services provider.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.