Administrators are individuals who are appointed by the court during probate proceedings to carry out the duties that would normally fall to executors. Courts appoint administrators when the decedent did not leave a will or when the person named as executor in their will is either unable or unwilling to assume their responsibilities.
Appointing an administrator
In California, the law provides probate judges with a list of suitable candidates to carry out the duties of an administrator. Surviving spouses are first in the order of priority followed by other relatives like children, grandchildren, parents and brothers and sisters. When the decedent had no close relatives, a public administrator or creditor may be appointed to fill the role. No matter what relationship a potential administrator had with the decedent, a judge will only make the appointment after determining that the individual is organized, trustworthy and capable of discharging their duties.
Executing the estate
Once they have been appointed, an administrator is tasked with executing the estate. This involves settling any outstanding financial matters, paying outstanding debts and expenses and submitting estate-related documents to the Internal Revenue Service. They are provided with documents by the court that state they have the authority to tend to these issues. Administrators should be especially careful when dealing with tax matters as they can, sometimes, be held personally responsible if they make a mistake.
A comprehensive estate plan
Attorneys with estate planning or elder law experience may suggest taking steps that eliminate the need for an administrator. Attorneys could also recommend placing estate assets into a trust to avoid the probate process altogether. When comprehensive estate plans have been put into place, attorneys may suggest revisiting them from time to time to determine whether revisions should be made in light of changing tax laws or evolving personal situations.