Anyone who finds out that he or she is the designated executor of a loved one’s estate may feel overwhelmed at the calling, especially if that person has never done anything like it before. Closing out and administering an estate can be a complicated process, and you may not know exactly what you need to do. That is okay. In California, this is not something you have to figure out on your own; you can seek legal assistance if you desire.

So, what are your duties as an executor? What happens if you make mistakes? How long should it take to close out the estate? All great questions with fairly uncomplicated answers.

Question number one: What are the executor’s duties?

The list is actually pretty extensive. After finding out you are the designated representative for an estate it is your job to:

  • Locate estate planning documents
  • Locate assets
  • Inform beneficiaries
  • Inform creditors
  • Continue making any necessary payments
  • Pay off debts
  • Pay final income taxes
  • Distribute assets according to the deceased’s wishes

If any family members or creditors file challenges to the estate, you will also have to work to resolve those. If there is no valid will in place, the court will have to approve asset distributions before you can do anything.

Question number two: What happens if I make mistakes?

If you make mistakes as an executor, beneficiaries may hold you personally responsible for them. This is why it is important to take the matter seriously, proceed carefully and pay attention to detail. You do not want to pay for mistakes out of your own pocket.

Question number three: How long will estate administration take?

Every state allows so many months for family and creditors to file claims against an estate. During that waiting period, you can work on gathering assets, preparing a tax return and doing everything else necessary to prepare the estate for distribution. If there are no challenges to the estate that need addressing, you can close out the estate relatively quickly. If any contests are filed, it can take months or, in worst-case scenarios, years to finally settle an estate.

If the thought of being an executor is overwhelming to you, take a deep breath. You can get through this. With the right assistance, estate administration will be completed properly before you know it.