What is involved in the probate of an estate, and why does it take so long?
Probate is started when someone the named executor, nextofkin, 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.
Why does the Public Administrator administer estates?
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.
When is the estate handled by the Public Administrator?
The Public Administrator may be appointed under the following circumstances:
How much are the fees of the Public Administrator?
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:
4% of the first $100,000
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.
What is the difference between a formal probate proceeding and a summary proceeding?
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.
Is the Public Administrator bonded?
Yes, the Public Administrator is officially bonded.
If the Public Administrator is handling the estate, do I need to hire an attorney to represent my interests?
It usually is not necessary. However, if your right to repayment of a debt or to inherit is not clear, or substantial claims impacting the value of the estate have been filed, you may consider retaining legal counsel to represent your interests. The fees for such attorney representation are a matter for private agreement between you and your attorney and they normally are not paid from the estate.
Does the Public Administrator make a thorough investigation to discover all estate assets?
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.
Will the Public Administrator make funeral arrangements?
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.
Can I put in a claim for my expenses?
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 at http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm?filter=DE, or by mail from the Public Administrator.
When will claims be paid?
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.
While the estate is in administration is the money in the estate earning interest?
Yes. The Public Administrator maintains all estate funds in insured interest bearing accounts until they are needed to pay claims and other expenses of the estate.
What inheritance taxes or estate taxes will the estate have to pay?
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.
Can you give me the exact financial status of the estate?
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.
Will I receive regular reports on the progress of the estate?
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.
Can I get a copy of the death certificate?
Certified copies of the death certificate may be obtained by contacting the County of Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk by phone at (800) 201-8999 or by visiting their website at https://www.lavote.net/home/records. The website allows requests online, and provides addresses of local offices and office hours.
[Note: another link may work better: http://lavote.net/home/records/death-records/death-records-request/who-can-obtain-a-death-certificate-copy]
How can I help speed up the administration?
By completing fully and returning promptly, all forms sent to you, this will assist the timely completion of estate administration. The Affidavit of Heirship (family information) is very important and needed as quickly as possible to help the Court determine the rightful heirs.
How long does it take to administer an estate?
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.
Why is estate property sold?
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 personal property is sold at auction by open bid to the highest bidder. Securities are sold without notice. All real property is sold at auction or by private sale after notice of sale and subject to confirmation by the Court.
Can the Public Administrator, his deputies or his attorney buy estate property?
No. Acquisition of estate property by Public Administrator staff, employees of the Treasurer and Tax Collector, or attorneys for the Public Administrator is prohibited by law.
Personal Property Auction
Public auctions are held on the second Saturday of each month, approximately 7-8 times a calendar year. Individuals who wish to obtain auction dates, subscribe to the auctioneer's email list, preview information regarding upcoming personal property auctions, or obtain the terms and conditions may go to the auctioneer's website www.cwsmarketing.com and click on the County of Los Angeles seal on the right side of the webpage. You may also call the Public Administrator warehouse at (626) 336-2364, 7:00 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday, for auction dates and other information. The warehouse is not open to the public, and viewing of property for sale is not allowed, on non-auction days.
Auctions are held at the Public Administrator's warehouse located at:
Auction items are available for preview on the day of the auction from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 am. The auction starts at 9:00 am and continues until all items are sold, concluding at approximately 3:00 pm
Items are sold "as is, where is". Payment for items purchased must be received and items must be removed from the warehouse premises the same day.
Interested bidders are required to deposit $100 to obtain a bidder's paddle. The balance of the deposit less any purchases will be returned to the bidder after the auction. A 15% buyer's premium and sales tax are also charged on all purchases.
For additional information regarding personal property auctions, please visit the auctioneer's FAQ page on their website at http://www.cwsmarketing.com/lacounty_faq.htm.
Real Property Auctions
The Public Administrator auctions approximately 125 parcels of improved and unimproved real property each year. Auctions are typically held on the 3rd weekend of the month, approximately 7-10 times per year, depending on the inventory of real property available for sale. Individuals who want auction dates, to subscribe to the auctioneer's email list, preview properties in upcoming auctions, overbid auctioned properties at court confirmation hearings, or obtain the terms and conditions of auction sales may go to www.BIDKW.com or contact Richard "Rhett" Winchell at (310) 871-0000, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, or by email at BIDKW@kennedywilson.com.
Auctions are held on site at the property being sold. During a weekend auction, the auctioneer caravans from property to property. Bidders may obtain a brochure which describes the time, date, and location of auction for each parcel. The brochure is available at www.BIDKW.com.
Bidders must bring a $5,000 Cashier's Check, payable to Kennedy-Wilson, and a personal check for the balance of the required 10% deposit, to the auction. All properties are sold "as is, where is", by the Public Administrator's auctioneer.
Please note all auction sales are subject to a court confirmation hearing 45-60
days after auction before escrow can commence. Public Administrator sale confirmation
hearings are normally held on Fridays on either the 8:30am or 10:30 am dockets in
one of the courtrooms assigned to probate matters. The Courts are located at:
At court confirmation hearings, the judge will usually reopen the auction process by asking for overbids from those attending the hearing. It is possible that the successful bidder at the auction is overbid by someone else, and the property is sold to the over-bidder. Before bidding at auction, or overbidding at the confirmation hearing, one should carefully read all terms and conditions listed in the auction brochure, which can be obtained from the Public Administrator's office located at 320 West Temple Street, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, or from Kennedy-Wilson's website at www.BIDKW.com.
For additional information regarding real property auctions, please visit the auctioneer's FAQ page on their website http://www.bidkw.com/files/uploaded/auction_377_2364.pdf.
When will the estate be distributed?
Estate distribution will occur upon completion and approval of the Final Account.
Will I receive a statement of all receipts and disbursements?
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.