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Being the executor of an estate can be an overwhelming experience. However, California residents can make the experience easier on themselves by being organized. The first steps in the process of settling an estate are to obtain the death certificate and to locate a will or trust if one exists. Multiple copies of a death certificate may be necessary; executors are advised to order twice as many as they anticipate needing.

If assets are held in a trust, there may be no need to go through probate. If probate is necessary, it could take up to two years to complete. An executor will be required to show letters testamentary that prove an individual has the legal right to act on behalf of the estate. An executor will be responsible for securing property as well as notifying government agencies that an individual is deceased and should no longer receive benefits.

Furthermore, this person will need to determine if the estate can afford to pay its outstanding debts. If not, a judge will prioritize an estate’s creditors. In the event that there is no detailed accounting of a person’s assets and debts, the personal representative will need to create one. A bank account can be opened in the estate’s name to handle its financial affairs.

While executors may be responsible for protecting assets, finding beneficiaries and handling other tasks, they don’t need to do so alone. An attorney may be able to answer any questions that an estate’s personal representative may have. This might reduce the odds of making a mistake or otherwise delaying probate. Legal counsel may also explain how to handle legal challenges to a will or how an estate may avoid probate if a person put assets into a trust.