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What should every California estate executor know?

If a deceased person leaves behind a will, they will choose an executor for their estate. If no will exists, a California probate court appoints an executor. This person takes on the financial responsibility for sorting the estate’s debts and assets.

Fiduciary duty

Every estate executor maintains a fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries. This means that the estate executor must take actions that protect the best interests of the estate and any beneficiaries. Failure to follow these guidelines could result in legal action against the executor.

Limits to executor powers

While the duties of estate administration does provide executors with a certain degree of power, California places limits on what an executor can do. These limits include:

  • Making any changes to the will
  • Prevent contests to the will
  • Make any decisions before an official probate court appointment
  • Sell assets before the beneficiaries agree


Although an executor must make payments on behalf of the estate, each decision must be approved by the probate court first. This includes all of the following types of payments:

  • Taxes
  • Debts
  • Creditors
  • Attorneys
  • Appraisers

Although an executor must typically gain court approval, California law allows you to request the full powers of an estate representative. Unlike a regular executor, a representative does not have to ask permission before making payments.


Part of an executor’s fiduciary duty involves locating and protecting any assets. While you must protect the assets, you may not distribute any assets without a court order. Assets may include:

  • Investment accounts
  • Insurance
  • Bank accounts
  • Real estate
  • Business investments or partnerships
  • Artwork

Focus on legal responsibilities

Many executors try to focus on keeping everyone happy, resulting in a rushed process to provide asset distribution. This can violate your legal obligations. Although the process may take a while to complete, you should always focus on ensuring your duties as an executor remain thoroughly fulfilled.