FAQs / How Do I

What is the Public Administrator?

The Public Administrator investigates and administrates certain cases of deceased Orange County residents. The Public Administrator serves in a fiduciary capacity, the fiduciary serves in a position of trust to administer an estate. The Public Administrator provides professional estate management services to Orange County residents who die without someone willing or able to handle their affairs. The powers of the Public Administrator are mandated by the Probate Code of the State of California. The applicable sections may be viewed at:

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/calawquery?codesection=prob

PC-Probate Code

H&S - Health and Safety Code

The following is not intended for legal advice and each referral, investigation or case administration may be processed in different manners.

How does the Public Administrator's Office get involved in a case?
The Public Administrator may be notified of a death by mortuaries, the Coroner, residential facilities, hospitals, landlords or private citizens when someone dies and there are assets to protect or the family of the decedent cannot be immediately located.
How do I make a referral to the Public Administrator?
You may download one of our referral forms and complete all of the fields listed in the referral. A completed referral can be either mailed to the office or faxed to the office. It is suggested that you call the Public Administrator Office You may call the Public Administrator's office at (714) 567-7660. Public Administrator Deputies will provide information and assistance and speak with the Officer Of The Day or with Supervisor of the unit prior to completing the referral. We may already have a referral from a Hospital, Mortuary, Coroner or other interested party. The referral has the contact information listed in the form. The submission of a referral does not constitute the acceptance of the referral for an investigation.
When is an estate handled by the Public Administrator?

An estate may be handled by the Public Administrator when it is determined that the deceased is an Orange County resident and meets the requirements by the office. Typically when there is no executor or administrator that has been appointed and personal or real property is at risk of loss, waste or misappropriation. This may also occur when the heirs of an estate are minor children and the minor children do not have a legal guardian appointed.

The Orange County Superior Court may request the Public Administrator to become the administrator of the estate, this starts through an Order To Show Cause (OSC) from the Court. At times the heir(s) may nominate the Public Administrator or a will may name the Public Administrator as the executor of the estate. This may occur when the heir(s) live outside of the State of California.

What are the legal responsibilities of the Public Administrator?
To provide for interment of a deceased person when there are no known relatives, make a search for heirs and, if none are found, to administer the estate. To protect the assets and manage the affairs of deceased residents of Orange County who, at the time of death, left no known heirs, no will, no named executor, or when there is no qualified person willing to assume the responsibility. 

To act as the administrator of estates when named in a will as executor or in some cases when heirs request the PA to administer the estate.

Will the Public Administrator make funeral arrangements?
Yes. According to California law the Public Administrator is required to make funeral arrangements if there is no relative to do so. The Public Administrator Deputy will also assist the family in making necessary funeral arrangements in cases that involve the Public Administrator acting as administrator. The Public Administrator will make arrangements commensurate with any pre-need plans of the decedent, the ability of the estate to pay, and the Probate Court policy as to the reasonable amount to be paid for these services out of estate assets.
What are the primary duties of the Public Administrator?
The Public Administrator has the same duties and functions as private administrators. They are to:
  • Protect the decedent's property from waste, loss or theft.
  • Make arrangements for the disposition of the decedent's remains.
  • Conduct thorough investigations to discover all assets.
  • Ensure that the estate is administered according to the decedent's wishes.
  • Pay decedent's bills and taxes.
  • Locate persons entitled to inherit from the estate and ensure that these individuals receive their inheritance.
In performing these functions the Public Administrator is required to maintain a fully documented audit trail to make certain that each and every asset is accounted for and distributed.
Is there a cost for an investigation?
If the Public Administrator takes possession or control of property of a decedent, but another person is subsequently appointed personal representative or subsequently takes possession or control of the estate. The Public Administrator is entitled to reasonable costs incurred for the preservation of the estate, together with reasonable compensation for services. (PC 7604)
What is a formal estate?
The Public Administrator of the County in which the estate of the decedent may be administered shall promptly petition for appointment as personal representative of the estate if no person having higher priority has petitioned for appointment and the total value of the estate property in the decedent's estate exceeds one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). (PC 7620)
What is a summary estate?
If a Public Administrator takes possession or control of an estate, the Public Administrator may act as a personal representative of the estate may summarily dispose of the estate in a manner provided by the Probate Code. This type of a decedent estate has a total value that does not exceed $150,000. An Ex-Parte application and order is filed with the Orange County Superior Court. The Public Administrator may charge the estate a minimum of $1,000 for administration fees.     (PC 7660 (a.) (1.)

When the decedent's estate total value is less than $50,000, the Public Administrator who is authorized to summarily dispose of property of a decedent is not required to open an estate with the Orange County Superior Court. No Court supervision is required for this type of summary estate. The Public Administrator may charge a minimum of $1,000 for the administration fees. (PC 7660 (a.) (2.)

What is an indigent estate?
These are estates without funds for the disposition of the remains and no heirs to take care of the disposition arrangements. These estates have insufficient assets to pay for the disposition of the remains. The law requires disposition by the spouse or relatives of the decedent. If there are no relatives or other persons to act, the County of Orange may act and assume the responsibility for the disposition of the remains through General Relief (GR). (H&S 7103)
Who has the duty for the disposition of the remains?
The right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person, the location and conditions of internment, and arrangements for funeral goods and services to be provided, unless other directions have been given by the decedent vests in the duty of disposition and the liability for the reasonable cost of disposition of the remains devolves upon the a specific order pursuant to the Health and Safety Code. The order typically starts with certain power of attorney for health care specific for disposition, then the competent surviving spouse, then competent adult children, then competent parents, then adult siblings, then the next degree of kinship, then a conservator.     (H&S 7100)
Thye deceased has a valid will, what should I do?
Probate may be required for the estate, typically when the total estate value exceeds $150,000 the representative of the state is called an executor when there is a will. The executor will file a petition for probate is the Orange County Superior Court if the deceased is an Orange County resident. The original valid will be filed with the Court for safekeeping. It is suggested the executor seek legal counsel for the filing with the Court.
Who is entitled to appointment of the estate?
Subject to the Probate Code, a person in the following relation to the decedent is entitled to appointment as administrator in the following priority. First is the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, then children, grandchildren, other issue, parents, brothers and sisters, issue of brothers and sisters, grandparents, children of predeceased spouse or domestic partner, other next of kin, parents of predeceased spouse or domestic partner, issue of parents of a predeceased spouse or domestic partner, conservator or guardian of an estate in that capacity at the time of death who has filed a first account and is not acting as conservator or guardian for any other person, the Public Administrator and last is creditors. (PC8461)
What if the surviving spouse was not living with the deceased at the time of death?
If the surviving spouse is a party to an action for separate maintenance, annulment, or dissolution of the marriage of the decedent and the surviving spouse, and was living apart from the decedent on the date of the decedent's death, the surviving spouse has priority next after brothers and sisters and not the priority prescribed. (PC 8463)
Will a bond be required?
Except as otherwise provided by statue, every person appointed as personal representative shall before letters are issued give a bond approved by the Court. If two or more persons are appointed, the Court may require either a separate bond from each or a joint and several bond. If a bond is furnished the liability on the bond is joint and several.

The bond shall be for the benefit of interested person and shall be conditioned on personal representative's faithful execution of duties of the office according to law. If the person appointed as personal representative fails to give the required bond, letters shall not be issued. If the person appointed as personal representative fails to give a new, additional or supplemental bond, or to substitute a sufficient surety, under Court Order, the person may be removed from office. (PC 8480)

What is a special administration?
If the circumstances of the estate require the immediate appointment of a personal representative, the court may appoint a special administrator to exercise any powers that may be appropriate under the circumstances for the preservation of the estate.   (PC 8540)
What is an inventory and appraisal?
The personal representative shall file with the clerk of the Court an inventory of property to be administered in the decedent's estate together with an appraisal of the property in the inventory. The inventory and appraisal shall be combined into one single document. The inventory and appraisal shall be filed within four months after letters are first issued to a general personal representative. (PC 8800)
What is a creditor claim?
A claim means a demand for payment for any of the following, whether due, not due, accrued or not accrued, or contingent, and whether liquidated or unliquidated. Liability of the decedent, whether arising in contract, tort or otherwise. Liability for taxes incurred before the decedent's death, whether assessed before or after the decedent’s death, other than property taxes and assessments secured by real property liens. Liability of the estate for funeral expenses. The claim does not include a dispute regarding title of a decedent to specific property alleged to be included in the decedent’s estate. Creditor means a person who may have a claim against property. (PC 9000)
What fees is the representative entitled to?
The Public Administrator or Representative shall receive compensation based upon the value of the estate accounted for by the personal representative as follows:

1.    Four percent of the first one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).

2.    Three percent of the next one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).

3.    Two percent on the next eight hundred thousand dollars ($800,000).

4.    One percent on the next nine million dollars ($9,000,000).

5.    One-half of 1 percent on the next fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000).

6.    For all amounts above twenty five million dollars ($25,000,000), a reasonable amount to be determined by the court.

The value of the estate accounted for by the personal representative is the total amount of the appraisal of property in the inventory, plus gains over the appraisal value on sales, plus receipts less losses from the appraisal value on sales, without reference to encumbrances or other obligations on estate property. (PC 10800)

What are the duties and liabilities of a personal representative?
The personal representative has the management and control of an estate and in managing and control of the estate, shall use ordinary care and diligence. What constitutes ordinary and diligence is determined by circumstances of the particular estate. (PC 9600)
What is an example of extraordinary fees?
The Public Administrator or representative is entitled to extraordinary fees for tax work, litigation or matters outside of normal administrative services such as preliminary distributions, complex accounting or complex investigations. (PC 10811)
What is the role of the attorney?
The responsibility of the attorney is to represent the personal representative in court and advise the personal representative how to fulfill their duties without incurring liability for errors or failure to take certain required actions timely. County Counsel is the attorney for the Public Administrator and acts on their behalf for all court appearances, litigation matters or other legal work.
What is the role of a Deputy Public Administrator case manager?
The Deputy Public Administrator is assigned a case for administration by the unit Supervisor. The Supervisor oversees the estate to assets are marshaled timely and the mandates set by the Probate Code are followed. The Deputy may contact next of kin to see who may want memorabilia from the estate such as old photographs, keepsakes, pictures or other items. The goal of the Deputy is to move the case along toward the earliest permissible distribution the the heir(s) and within the time constraints of the Orange County Superior Court.

At the time of the final accounting each beneficiary who will take from the estate will receive a copy of the accounting which lists all income received and disbursements made during the administration of the estate assets. This is the same accounting that is filed with the Court.

How long does it take for an estate to be distributed?
There is no set time to give a specific closing date since each case and its circumstances are different. There are many factors to be considered with the estate closing. This depends on the length of time to sell real or personal property, determination of heirship, tax clearance letters from the state and federal, liquidating stocks or IRA accounts, litigation matters and the completion of the final accounting. Typically an estate may close in approximately twenty four months if there are no problems. It is suggested that any heir to an estate does not plan financially or make purchases until an estate with funds actually is distributed.
Do I need to hire an attorney to represent me?
You may retain counsel to represent your interest in the estate; however the Public Administrator is represented by an attorney at County Counsel for the estate. If your right to inherit is not clear or substantial claims affecting the estate have been filed, you may choose to retain counsel to represent your interests. The fees for this attorney representation are matters for private agreement between you and your private attorney and not chargeable against the estate.
How is the estate property sold?
All of the sales are pursuant to the Probate Code and all of the probate assets are appraised by a Court appointed appraiser. The code imposes certain restrictions on the sale of the assets for less than their appraised value.

Personal property is sold through a nationwide government auction website that only handles sales for city and county government agencies. At times some of the personal property is sold in house at an auction where the customers place sealed bids.

The real property is sold by our internal real estate broker and listed on the multiple listings. In a case where the property is out of the area or out of state the broker will retain a private real estate agent for the sale. The Public Administrator also has the option to sell the real property at an auction. (PC 10000)

If I inherit from the estate must I pay estate taxes?
The Public Administrator suggests that if you receive a distribution from the decedent's estate that you consult with a tax professional if you have specific questions regarding your tax liability.
What happens at the time of final distribution?
The Public Administrator approves or denies creditor claims and makes a final review of all tax liability and prepares a final accounting of the restate assets with the Court. When the final accounting is approved the Court sets a date for the final hearing.

If you are an heir to the estate, you will receive a copy of the Final Accounting and Notice of Hearing with the date of the hearing. At the hearing and after the approval of the accounting, an Order is issued permitting h payment of claims, awarding the Public Administrator and County Counsel their fees and distributing the remainder to the entitled heirs of the estate. The Court processes the recording of the order and obtains the Judge's signature and returns the order to the Administrator usually within about four weeks after the hearing date. The cash distribution and in some cases distribution of real or personal property is made in about two weeks of receipt of the order from court.

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