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Probate is started when someone – the named executor, next–of–kin, or the Public Administrator – files a petition to open a probate proceeding with the Superior Court.
The Court will set a hearing on the petition and determine who should be appointed to administer the estate. Letters of Administration are issued by the Court and constitute legal authority for the appointed Personal Representative or Administrator to take over all aspects of the decedent's estate.
The Personal Representative or Administrator will arrange for the funeral, if not already arranged, and must marshal (collect for safekeeping) and evaluate (value as of the decedent's date of death) all assets, debts and other interests of the decedent. This information is summarized in an Inventory & Appraisal of the estate, which is filed with the Court and copied to all interested persons. Notices are mailed to family/heirs, creditors and other interested parties, and a hearing may be conducted to resolve any questions or concerns about the assets and debts of the estate.
The Personal Representative or Administrator evaluates claims against the estate, pays taxes and expenses as needed, sells assets as needed, determines who is entitled to the remaining estate, if any, and concludes all matters affecting the estate. The Personal Representative or Administrator will prepare a final accounting of all actions taken to settle the estate, and file it with the Court. A copy of the final accounting is mailed to all interested persons.
The Court will hold a hearing on the handling of the estate and review the final accounting. Once approved, the Personal Representative or Administrator is discharged and the probate proceeding is concluded.
The Public Administrator is a County official, established by State law. California became a State when gold was found at Sutter's Mill in 1848. After the office of Sheriff was established in 1850, to maintain law and order, and a very cold winter struck in 1850-51, many people died. To take protective possession of the property left behind by deceased miners and other transient residents from out of state, the office of the Public Administrator was established for each County in 1851.
The Public Administrator has the legal authority to take protective custody of property of a decedent, and to investigate the decedent's assets and obligations, family and other interested persons, and related information. The Public Administrator may open probate for the decedent's estate, or refer the estate to the appropriate person(s) for administration.
The Public Administrator may be appointed under the following circumstances:
The California Probate Code provides for statutory fees for executors, administrators and their attorneys. The Public Administrator and attorneys for the Public Administrator are entitled to the same compensation. Statutory fees are based on the value of the estate.
Statutory fees are as follows:
In addition to statutory fees the Court, upon request, will award extraordinary fees for such extra work as selling real and personal property, petitioning for determination of heirship, litigation to collect assets, and defending actions against the estate and other similar matters. All fees must be approved by the Probate Court, in the accounting.
A formal probate proceeding is supervised by the Court and generally applies to estates with a date-of-death value exceeding $150,000.00.
Where the total value of the estate does not exceed $150,000.00, California law (Probate Code §7660) authorizes the Public Administrator to administer the estate with limited or no court supervision. Summary proceedings are only authorized for the Public Administrator and the law provides for a minimum fee ($1,000.00). A summary probate proceeding is considerably more economical and efficient than a formal probate proceeding.
At the time of the original investigation, the Deputy Public Administrator looks for all leads which may indicate assets of the decedent. These leads are followed up in due course, and the assets collected and (usually) liquidated, during the administration of the estate. Unless someone has deliberately hidden assets, all assets are usually located before the close of the administration.
A Deputy Public Administrator will work with the family to make the necessary funeral arrangements, either at the family's request or in the absence of family.
Arrangements will be made commensurate with any pre-need plans of the decedent or the ability of the estate to pay. All deceased persons will be afforded a dignified burial when possible.
If you paid the debts of the decedent or incurred charges directly connected with the decedent's death or paid part of the funeral expenses, immediately notify the administrator. You may be a creditor of the estate. Creditors must file a Creditor's Claim with documents supporting the claim within four (4) months after the appointment of the estate's personal representative or administrator. Creditor Claim forms may be obtained from the Court, at any legal bookstore, from the California Judicial Council online, or by mail from the Public Administrator.
Funeral expenses are a priority claim and are paid when sufficient estate funds are available. If a funeral director or mortuary is contacting family members or heirs for payment, they should be referred to the personal representative or administrator. The estate may reimburse reasonable funeral expenses.
Federal estate taxes will be paid from the estate at the rate and estate exclusion that apply to the year of death. There are no inheritance taxes in California.
A complete accounting will be filed with the Court and provided to all interested parties prior to the final distribution of the estate. This Final Account is set for a hearing and interested parties are notified. Prior to the filing of the Final Account, indications regarding the value of the estate or an heir's share of the estate are estimates only.
The primary function of the Public Administrator is to administer estates. Estate administration involves collecting assets, paying debts, locating heirs, creditors and other interested parties, as well as seeking instructions from and complying with Court orders. At the conclusion of the administration the Final Accounting is prepared and the residual estate, if any, is distributed. The Public Administrator also provides notice to creditors, heirs or legatees, and other interested parties, and responds to all requests for information regarding the progress of an estate's administration, as promptly as possible.
The Public Administrator endeavors to complete investigations and petition for appointment as quickly as possible. The timeline for administration varies greatly depending on the complexity of the estate.
Personal property (furniture, jewelry, art, etc.) is sold to satisfy estate debts and costs of administration. Generally, most heirs desire a liquidation of the estate, to receive a cash distribution. The Public Administrator works with known heirs to determine the desired disposition of property, when there are sufficient proceeds to pay debts and costs. Some items may be distributed in-kind to heirs. The value of the items is then deducted from the receiving heir's share. Heirs may attend auctions and purchase any items from the estate.
Real property (house, vacant land, commercial property, oil & mineral rights), is also sold to satisfy estate debts and costs of administration. In the event the estate has sufficient cash to satisfy estate debts and costs and an heir desires to retain the real property, the heir should speak directly with the Public Administrator's staff to formalize an agreement.
All sales are governed by the California Probate Code. All probate assets are appraised by a Court appointed appraiser. All real property is sold at auction or by private sale after notice of sale and subject to confirmation by the Court.
Estate distribution will occur upon completion and approval of the Final Account.
With formal probates, a copy of the Final Account will be mailed to the creditors, heirs or legatees, and other interested parties when filed for Court hearing and approval. For the Public Administrator's summary proceedings, a copy of the Final Account will be provided upon request.