Estate administration attorney in Sonoma County
Losing a loved one is never easy – and we at the Gullotta Law Group are well aware of your family's need for compassionate, caring, and professional legal representation at this time. Though we understand your need to heal and recover after your loss, you will need to also carefully consider how to transfer, inherit, or administer the property left behind by your loved one.
Call our Sonoma County estate planning firm at (707) 938-7234 now.
It can be extremely difficult to deal with courts, paperwork and legal proceedings at this emotional time of your life. The decisions you must make can be more complicated than you would have thought, and those decisions are made more difficult when family members or friends are all giving you “advice.” In short, our California estate administration attorneys can not only help you make the right decisions for your loved ones and the future, we can also answer your questions and concerns if you are dealing with the estate administration of a loved one.
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What is Estate Administration?
Estate administration is the process of distributing the estate of a deceased person to the appropriate beneficiaries. These beneficiaries could be named in the decedent’s will or trust, or, if the decedent left no will or trust, California state probate laws will dictate the administration of the decedent’s assets.
Estate administration is typically supervised by courts when there is a discrepancy in the will, the will is disputed by a beneficiary, or when there is no will. In any of these cases, an estate administrator will be named by the court who will distribute the estate according to California estate laws. Because court-supervised estate administration can be time consuming and expensive, it can be beneficial to have a properly constructed will or trust which largely avoids the probate costs, and California courts.
Another type of estate administration is known as independent estate administration. This is a situation where an appointed estate executor is responsible for managing the estate, paying the debts, filing taxes and court documents, and distributing assets belonging to the decedent. This type of estate administration occurs when the decedent has named an executor who will be responsible for property distribution according to the wishes of the decedent as set forth in a will, trust, or other estate planning document.
The Executor's Role in Estate Administration
Whether an executor is named in a will or a trust or is chosen by the court, the executor of an estate essentially oversees disposition of property and possessions. An executor is entrusted with the very big responsibility of ensuring a person’s last wishes regarding the disposition of their property and other issues is properly carried out. The executor of an estate has a requirement to fulfil his or her fiduciary duty with honesty and diligence. While an executor is not entitled to proceeds from the state, executors are generally allowed a reasonable fee as compensation for administering the will. Specific duties of an executor include the following:
- Locating all assets belonging to the decedent and keeping these assets safe until such time as they can be distributed to heirs;
- Determining whether probating the will is required. A court will generally approve the validity of the will, and, depending on the state will probate the will;
- Locating and contacting all beneficiaries named in the will. If there is no will, the executor must locate and contact likely beneficiaries;
- Ensuring the will is filed in the appropriate California probate court;
- Cancelling the decedent’s credit cards and notifying any banks the decedent used regarding his or her death;
- Notifying the Social Security Administration if the decedent was collecting any type of Social Security benefits;
- Setting up a new bank account in the estate’s name;
- Continuing to pay necessary expenses such as mortgage payments, insurance and any other recurring payments which must be paid during the estate administration;
- Paying off all creditors, and notifying those creditors of the death;
- Filing a final tax return and paying any owed taxes, whether federal, state or property; and
- Distributing any property not named in the will according to California estate laws.
If the decedent left no will, the person in charge of the estate administration may be called an administrator rather than an executor.
Debts After Death
Many people wonder about the status of debts following the death of a loved one. Must credit card debt of the decedent be repaid? What about student loans, mortgages, or other financial obligations. While creditors certainly want you to believe it is your obligation to repay these debts, this is not always the entire truth. Credit card debts belong to the holder of the account. This means relatives are not legally obligated to repay these credit card debts from the estate of the deceased unless the relative was a co-signer.
That being said, in community property states where assets acquired during a marriage are considered to be jointly owned, a surviving spouse could possibly be liable for credit card and other types of debt belonging to the deceased. Generally speaking, however, repaying credit card debt belonging to the decedent is voluntary rather than legally required. If the house which has a mortgage on it is going to continue to be lived in or is going to be sold and the proceeds distributed, then the mortgage must be paid monthly following a death of the borrower. Life insurance proceeds go directly to the named beneficiary without going through probate or any other legal avenue.
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How the Gullotta Law Group Can Help an Estate Administration
As you can imagine, estate administration can be extremely complex, and can definitely benefit from having an experienced estate administration attorney from the Gullotta Law Group involved. You are not alone during this difficult time; if you are currently creating a will or estate plan, we can help you through the drafting process, ensuring your wishes will be carried out. If you are a beneficiary, we will assist you in receiving the benefits left to you. Contact the Gullotta Law Group today for information regarding estate administration and we will help you through the process in the most efficient, affordable manner possible.