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Choosing estate representatives is a vital estate planning task

In California and elsewhere, one of the key planning issues for an individual or married couple is choosing who to serve as executors, trustees, power of attorney agents, health proxies and other positions. Ideally, the estate planning documents will include alternate choices if the first fails to serve or qualify. Generally, people choose their immediate family members or closest friends. Occasionally, they may select an institution for all or some of the duties. 

The most important appointment is the personal representative, also called the executor, of the decedent's estate. Where the maker passes significant assets by his or her will, the personal representative faces a solemn and substantial undertaking. The directing instrument is the will. Fortunately, the representative will work hand in hand with the estate attorney to carry out the required duties.

The attorney assists and guides the representative in the task of identifying and collecting all estate assets. The assets are generally turned into money and deposited into a special estate checking account. The representative must then pay the decedent's bills, file tax returns and distribute the remaining funds as designated by the will. That is a general scenario but the process can be considerably more complicated depending on the circumstances of each estate.

In some instances, for example, the maker may instruct the personal representative to sell real estate and pay the proceeds to all the maker's children in equal shares. Sometimes, the will gives real estate to specific individuals, necessitating that the representative sign a deed conveying the property to the named heir. Another example of the versatility of the potential bequests is where the maker directs the representative to manage the maker's business until it can be sold for value. 

In California as well as all other jurisdictions, the object of the initial estate planning process will end after all distributions are made, obligations paid and disputes resolved. At that time, the personal representative makes an accounting to the heirs and requests a release of all claims. The foregoing is a simple description of the process but in some instances, it will be complicated and will require the supervision of the probate judge.

Source:, "Estate Planning: Obligations of a personal representative", Christopher Yugo, April 8, 2018

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