Writing a will allows people to state their wishes on how their estate should be distributed when they die and the decisions their loved ones should respect if they become incapacitated. A testator (the person who writes the will) usually appoints an executor to ensure such wishes are fulfilled.
But who assumes these duties when someone dies without a will? Here is what you should know:
The court will follow the legal priority list
If someone dies without a will, California law has a priority list that a probate court will use to appoint an administrator. A surviving spouse or domestic partner is on top of the list, followed by children, grandchildren and so on.
If the court can’t appoint a family member as the administrator, it will choose the estate’s conservator or guardian who was acting in that capacity at the time of death, a public administrator, creditors or any other qualified person.
An administrator’s roles are similar to those of a named executor. They will manage the estate before administration, communicate with heirs, pay debts and so on. However, since they don’t have a will to work from, they primarily base their decisions on laws.
Note that if an estate is small or can be distributed without going to probate, a close relative can be the informal estate representative.
What if there is a will but no executor?
If a will exists but lacks an executor, perhaps the testator didn’t name one or the heirs have contested the chosen party, legal guidance is required.
Executor-related issues are common. If this is the case, it will be best to obtain adequate information to make informed decisions, whether you are the named executor, an heir or an interested party.