Vaght Boutris LLP

Executors: Settling Assets

As  a personal representative (administrator or executor of an estate) who has been appointed by the court, the first step in settling the decedent's estate is to locate and safeguard all of the decedent's assets. You must then figure out which assets belonged solely to the decedent so that you can protect them until they can be distributed either according to the decedent's will or, if the decedent had no will, under California intestacy laws. Finding such assets can be a challenge.

Bank Accounts
One place to begin your search is the decedent's bank accounts. Checking accounts can provide invaluable information through bank statements. By reviewing the decedent's transactions for the year preceding death, you are likely to find information on insurance policies, loans, taxes, healthcare expenses, mortgages, and investments. 

Another good place for information about assets is the decedent's mail. When the local post office learns of the death, a decedent's mail will be held for 15 days and then returned to the sender. If a family member provides the local post office with proper identification and a copy of the death certificate, he or she will be able to claim the decedent's mail or have the mail readdressed to him or her by filling out a change of address form. You may do the same thing once you have been officially appointed and you have been issued "Letters" by the court.  

Be aware that you will not have access to most government checks or to documents intended for the exclusive use of the decedent, and such documents must be returned to the sender.

Keep in mind that any mail addressed to joint owners should be given to the surviving owner because it is not part of the decedent's estate. You may then wish to sort the mail into assets, liabilities, personal letters, and junk mail. You should monitor the decedent's mail for at least one year because many assets have semiannual and annual terms.

Safe Deposit Boxes
A last place to look for actual assets or for documentary evidence of assets is a safe deposit box. Your review of the decedent's bank accounts may show a safe deposit box rental payment. If not, you can ask at any bank where the decedent did business as to whether he rented a safe deposit box.