The Office of the Public Administrator investigates and may administer the estates of persons who are residents of Contra Costa County at the time of death and who die without a qualified person willing or able to assume the responsibility. The powers of the Public Administrator are mandated by the California Probate Code.
The primary duties of the Public Administrator are to:
- Thoroughly search for next of kin;
- Make final arrangements for the deceased when there are no known next of kin;
- Conduct thorough investigations to discover all assets belonging to the decedent;
- Protect the decedent's property from waste, loss or theft;
- Notify creditors and pay debts if the estate is solvent; and
- Pay the expenses of administration and distribute the balance of the estate to the persons legally entitled to inherit.
Notification of Death
The Public Administrator may be notified of a death by various sources, including:
- Coroner's Office
- Funeral homes
The Public Administrator's office conducts an investigation after a referral is received and it is determined that the Public Administrator has jurisdiction over the investigation.
During the investigation phase, the Public Administrator searches for next of kin, legal documents such as a trust or will, and other assets.
If next of kin are able to handle the estate, it may be turned over to them. If no next of kin are located, the Public Administrator will proceed, as appropriate.
Administration of Estate
After the Public Administrator completes an investigation, a determination is made whether to open an estate. The Public Administrator administers estates pursuant to the provisions of the California Probate Code. When administering an estate, the Public Administrator will:
- Collect and sell all estate property (real and personal);
- Pay estate creditors and administration expenses; and
- Distribute the balance of the estate to the persons legally entitled to inherit.
If the total value of the estate does not exceed $50,000, the estate does not have to be administered under supervision of the Court. The Public Administrator must petition the Court to administer estates valued at more than $50,000.
Contra Costa County Counsel is the attorney for the Public Administrator and acts on the Public Administrator's behalf for all court appearances, litigation matters and other legal work.
California law provides a statutory fee for the administrator of an estate. The Public Administrator is allowed the same compensation as private administrators. The allowable fees are based on the value of the estate, computed as follows:
- 4% of the first $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the next $800,000
- 1% of the next $9,000,000
The Probate Code allows for a minimum fee of $1,000 in smaller estates, paid from estate assets only.
The law also provides for statutory attorney's fees based on the same fee schedule as that of the administrator.
Under the California Health and Safety Code, a decedent's next-of-kin are responsible for handling the decedent's disposition. The County may assume the cost of cremation if the assets of an estate are not sufficient to pay for disposition and the decedent's next-of-kin are financially unable to assume their responsibility.
Complete the Online Referral Form and submit electronically.
- Document all of your contacts on the referral form. Reference who was contacted, when they were contacted and what they said. Be sure to include any documented statements by the decedent regarding relatives or lack thereof.
Email all relevant documents supporting the referral to PublicAdministrator@cchealth.org or fax the documents to 925-646-1272. Such documents may include: intake or admission forms and/or contact list.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to administer an estate?
The time it takes to complete estate administration varies greatly depending on the complexity of the estate and the availability of the court. The process typically takes at least 12-24 months or longer to complete. Beneficiaries are cautioned not to plan their financial affairs upon the expectation of receiving a distribution of a certain amount at a specific time.
Does the beneficiary receive regular reports on the progress of the estate?
The Public Administrator's goal is to work in the best interest of the estate, advance the case to the earliest distribution and close the estate within time constraints permitted by the court. With this in mind, it is our first obligation to devote our efforts to the actual administration of the estate.
The Public Administrator's office may contact you to clarify disposition of memorabilia (photos, keepsakes), degree of kindred and the like. However, no routine status reports are issued except to the court.
How does the Public Administrator sell estate property?
The Public Administrator sells real property through licensed real estate agents. The Public Administrator sells personal property through various estate liquidators and auction houses.
Can anyone bid on real property?
Yes. However, buyers of real property must post a 10% minimum deposit by cash or certified check with the bid before it is accepted.
You may contact the Public Administrator's Office by phone at 925-313-7990 or by email at PublicAdministrator@cchealth.org.