Public Administrator

About Orange County Public Administrator

The Public Administrator provides full-service estate administration, including an in-house real estate broker, property management, personal property storage, auction services, accounting, investment liquidation, and dedicated legal counsel.

The death of a loved one or close friend can be very difficult. In addition to the emotional toll, those who are left to manage the decedent’s personal and financial affairs are often unprepared for the onerous legal and financial responsibilities.

The Orange County Public Administrator is here to help. 

The Public Administrator serves the public by managing estates and making the final arrangements of Orange County residents who die without a will or an appropriate person willing or able to act on the decedent’s behalf to manage and resolve the decedent’s estate. The Public Administrator performs estate administration with expertise and compassion. Our staff makes funeral arrangements, searches for wills and assets, looks for family members, and ensures the decedent’s property is protected from waste, loss or theft.  Working through appropriate methods of probate, the Public Administrator manages all aspects of the estate until the proper distribution to all heirs is completed. The Public Administrator is legally mandated to serve in a fiduciary capacity to provide professional estate management services to Orange County residents. 

Our office maintains the services of Orange County Counsel, who are experienced in the practice of Probate law. The powers of the Public Administrator are mandated by the Probate Code of the State of California. (Cal Prob Code § 7600 et. seq.[link to law]). Fees for estate administration services are set by law and paid out of the estate assets.

Should you have any questions about our services, please call 714-834-6578 or email us at

If you are a concerned resident, community partner, hospital, nursing facility, coroner, mortuary or other referring agency and would like to submit a referral for services, please use the “Submit a Referral” button below.

Decedent Referral

The Orange County Public Administrator (OCPA) administers estates where there is no known family, the family declines or is unable to act, or the family nominates the OCPA to act on their behalf. The OCPA may also administer the estate of a person who died without a valid will.


The Public Administrator acts pursuant to California Probate Code 7600 et seq. Cases are referred to the OCPA by members of the public, the Orange County Coroner’s Office, hospitals, nursing facility, and other community referrals. A person legally qualified to act may nominate the Public Administrator to act on their behalf.

The Public Administrator may handle the disposition of the remains pursuant to the authority established by Health and Safety Code Section 7100.

A referral should be made to the Orange County Public Administrator when: 1) the decedent is a resident of the County of Orange, 2) there is no known family member willing or able to act upon the decedents’ behalf, and/or 3) the decedent died without a will or trust and the property is at risk of waste, loss or misappropriation.

Residency Requirement

The person who died must be a resident of the County of Orange. This means they must have intended to make Orange County their permanent residence. If a person is transferred from a hospital to a skilled or temporary nursing or rehabilitation facility located within the County, this action does not qualify the person as a resident. The facility or referent should contact the transferring County to determine residency.

Preparing and Submitting a Referral

Step 1: Complete the Orange County District Attorney – Public Administrator Referral Form. The referring party must be thorough in completing the questions on the form.

Step 2: The referring party must submit any documents in support of the referral. Such documents may include:

Intake or admission forms, inventory of personal items, contacts list, bank information, proof of assets, testamentary documents, etc. The referent must safeguard the personal property of the decedent and must submit the location of such personal property with the referral form. Personal property may include such items as: a wallet, purse, identification, keys, jewelry, other personal effects.

Step 3: The complete Referral Form and supporting documentation must be electronically submitted online or via email to:

Step 4: The referring party should be reasonably available for follow up interviews and investigation.



The Orange County Public Administrator is a County government agency housed within the Orange County District Attorney’s office that investigates and administrates certain probate cases of deceased Orange County residents. The Public Administrator serves in a fiduciary capacity which is a position of trust to administer an estate. The Public Administrator provides professional estate management services to County residents who die without someone willing or able to handle their affairs. The powers and duties of the Public Administrator are primarily established by the Probate Code of the State of California. The applicable sections may be viewed at:


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. A referral for investigation and determination as to whether the Public Administrator will handle a decedent’s estate can be submitted online using the referral tab on the Orange County Public administrator website:

You may complete and submit a referral form online by using the referral tab provided on the Orange County Public Administrator website at You may also download and complete the referral form and email it to or fax it to the Public Administrator’s office at (714) 347-8699. The Public Administrator’s main reception line is (714) 834-6578 and the Public Administrator staff is available to answer any questions, provide information and assist in completing a referral form.

An estate may be handled by the Orange County Public Administrator when it is determined that the deceased is an Orange County resident and meets the requirements established by the Public Administrator. The Public Administrator may seek to be appointed to administer the estate under the following circumstances:

  • When an individual dies intestate, without a will, and there are no known heirs of the estate willing or able to administer the estate.
  • When an heir nominates the Public Administrator to handle the decedent’s estate administration.
  • When there is no executor or administrator appointed by the court and the decedent’s property is at risk of loss, waste, or misappropriation.
  • When an heir resides outside of California and requests the Public Administrator handle the estate.
  • When the named executor in the will fails to act on a formal probate and no other person has a preferred right or is willing to act.
  • When the heirs of an estate are minor children and the minor children do not have a legal guardian appointed.
  • When the Public Administrator is named in a will.
  • When the Superior Court requests the Public Administrator become the administrator of the estate through an Order to Show Cause (OSC) from the Court.

The Public Administrator has the same duties and functions as a private personal representative. They are to: 

  • Protect the decedent’s property from waste, loss, or theft.
  • Search for testamentary documents. 
  • Make arrangements for the disposition of the decedent’s remains in accordance with the wishes of the decedent, if possible. 
  • Conduct thorough investigations to discover all assets. 
  • Collect and manage assets and keep records.
  • Pay decedent’s bills and taxes. 
  • Locate persons and entities entitled to inherit from the estate and ensure that these individuals or entities receive their inheritance according to the will, trust, or intestacy laws.

In performing these functions, the Public Administrator is required to comply with all pertinent laws, and to maintain a fully documented audit trail to make certain that every asset is accounted for and distributed. All actions taken by the Public Administrator are in accordance with the law.

Yes. According to California law the Public Administrator is required to make funeral arrangements if there is no relative to do so and there are sufficient assets. The Public Administrator 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.

If it is determined that the decedent was indigent, there are no estate assets to pay for the disposition of the remains, and there are no relatives or other persons to act, the County of Orange may act and assume the responsibility for the disposition of remains through the General Relief (GR). (See Health and Safety Code 7103.)

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, is set forth in Health and Safety Code section 7100. This statute provides that the duty of disposition and the liability for the reasonable cost of disposition of the remains transfers to certain persons and/or entities in an order that typically starts with a 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, a conservator, then the Public Administrator when the deceased has sufficient assets. (See Health and Safety Code section 7100) 

Probate means that there is a court case that deals with:

  • Deciding if a will exists and is valid.
  • Figuring out who are the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries.
  • Figuring out how much the decedent’s property is worth.
  • Taking care of the decedent’s financial responsibilities; and
  • Transferring the decedent’s property to the heirs or beneficiaries.


In a probate case, an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will) is appointed by the court as the personal representative to collect the assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries (those who have the legal right to inherit), all under the supervision of the court. The entire case can take between one to two years, or longer depending on the size of the estate, the court proceedings, and any complications associated with the administration of the estate.

Initial Stage:

When the Public Administrator receives an initial referral, a deputy public administrator will immediately conduct an investigation to locate family, determine the type and size of the estate, and will take steps to protect estate assets from waste, loss or misappropriation, when necessary. The Public Administrator will attempt to contact and locate family members to determine if they wish to act as administrator of the estate. If family is unable to take on the responsibilities of handling the decedent’s estate as the administrator, or otherwise declines to act as administrator, the Public Administrator may obtain letters of declination from them as well as nomination letters, nominating the Public Administrator to act. With the assistance of County Counsel, the Public Administrator will then prepare and file a Petition for Appointment and the Superior Court of California will set the matter for hearing.

Second Stage:

If at the hearing the court appoints the Public Administrator, the court will issue an order and letters of appointment to the Public Administrator. The assigned Deputy Public Administrator will proceed with the business of the estate administration. These duties include:

Obtaining an inventory and appraisal of all assets the decedent held as of date of death and filing the required documentation with the Court.
Collecting and liquidating all assets, including closing bank accounts, selling personal and real property, liquidating stocks, obtaining unclaimed property from the State, etc.
Applying for death benefits.
Evaluating and determining heirship, and assessing for tax liability of the estate.

Final Stage:

In the final stage of administration, the Public Administrator approves and pays or denies creditor claims, makes a final review of, and pays all tax liability and prepares a Final Accounting of estate assets with the Court. The Court sets a date for a final hearing.

If you are an heir of the estate, you will receive a copy of the Final Accounting and Notice of Hearing setting a final hearing date. At that hearing, and after Court approval of the accounting, an Order is issued permitting payment of claims, awarding the Public Administrator statutory administration and legal fees, and distributing the remainder to the entitled beneficiaries of the estate.

Generally, the cost of the Public Administrator’s initial investigation is paid by the statutorily mandated administration fees and itemized expenses paid through the estate distribution process at the completion of the estate administration.  However, if the Public Administrator takes possession or control of a decedent’s property and 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. (See Probate Code section 7604)

The Public Administrator may handle all categories of estates, except for indigent estates. A description of each of these estates is described below: 

Formal Estate or Probate Estate

These estates are valued over one hundred and sixty-six thousand two hundred fifty dollars ($166,250). (Probate Code section 7620.) An estate of this size is handled by the Public Administrator under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court, provided no person having higher priority has petitioned for appointment. The proceedings commence with the filing of a petition for appointment as personal representative of the estate and appointment of the Public Administrator. A formal estate requires court monitoring and/or approval for procedures including proving a will, sale of property, paying taxes and distribution of assets. An accounting is completed and submitted to the court to show what was done before the Public Administrator is discharged.

Summary Estate

These estates are valued less than one hundred and sixty-six thousand two hundred fifty dollars ($166,250). (Probate Code section 7660.) If a Public Administrator takes possession or control of an estate, the Public Administrator may act as a personal representative of the estate and may summarily dispose of the estate with going through the court probate process, as provided by the Probate Code section 13100. 

  1. When the decedent’s estate total value is less than $166,250 and greater than $55,425, the Public Administrator will file an ex-parte application with the Orange County Superior Court seeking authority to summarily dispose of a small estate. The Public Administrator begins the estate disposition process upon receiving approval by the court. (Probate Code section 7660(a)(1).)
  2. When the decedent’s estate total value is less than $55,425, the Public Administrator is authorized to summarily dispose of property of a decedent and is not required to open an estate with the Orange County Superior Court. No Court supervision is required for this type of summary estate. (Probate Code section 7660 (a)(2).)

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). (Health and Safety Code section 7103).

Probate is generally required for an estate when the total estate value exceeds $166,250. (Probate Code section 7620.)  If the deceased has a valid will and that will names an executor, the person named will act as the representative of the estate. The executor is required to file a petition for probate in the Orange County Superior Court if the deceased is an Orange County resident. The original valid will must be filed with the Court for safekeeping. It is suggested that the executor seek legal counsel for the filing with the Court. If the will fails to name an executor, or the executor is deceased or is not willing or able to act as the personal representative, a new personal representative must be appointed by the court. The Public Administrator may serve as the personal representative in this circumstance often at the request of the beneficiaries of the estate.

When formal probate is required a representative must be appointed by the court. The representative is called an “executor” when there is a valid will or an “administrator” when there is no will. Probate Code section 8461 specifies who is entitled to be appointed as the administrator of an estate in an order of priority. The Public Administrator may be nominated to act as the personal representative of the estate by any person having priority. The priority is set forth as follows: 

  • Surviving spouse or registered domestic partner
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Other children
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Children of brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Children of predeceased spouse or domestic partner
  • Other next of kin
  • Parents of predeceased spouse or domestic partner
  • Children 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 creditors (Probate Code section 8461.)

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 estate. (Probate Code section 9600.) 

It is the representative’s duty to collect and manage assets, keep records, pay debts and expenses, compute and pay income, death and other taxes, and distribute the estate assets to persons (sometimes trusts) entitled to them in accordance to a will or intestacy laws.

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. Orange County Counsel is the attorney for the Public Administrator and acts on their behalf for all court appearances, litigation matters, or other legal work related to the handling of the estate. 

Attorney’s fees are based on a statutory schedule set forth in Probate Code section 10800. Additional fees may be charged for legal matters outside the normal probate services such as litigation. The Public Administrator’s and County Counsel’s hourly rates for extraordinary work are often lower than those charged by private administrators and their attorneys.

If you have a right to an inheritance, you do not need to hire an attorney to collect your legal share of the estate. The personal representative (administrator or executor) of the estate is obligated to ensure that all estate proceeds are distributed to the beneficiaries according to law and subject to court order. If the decedent died without a valid will (intestate), an heir subject to legal priority may petition the court to act as the personal representative of the estate. Note, anyone with a legal interest in an estate may retain legal counsel.  If your right to inherit is not clear, or substantial claims affecting the whole inheritance have been filed, you may choose to retain legal counsel to represent your special interests. The fees for such attorney representation are a matter for private agreement between you and your attorney and they are not charged against the estate.

An heir, however, may nominate the Public Administrator to act on his or her behalf as the administrator of an estate. The Public Administrator utilizes the legal services of Orange County Counsel to handle all legal work related to the handling of the estate. All fees for administration and legal services are set forth by law and are collected from the estate assets at the conclusion of the administration and after approval by the court. (Probate Code section 10800.)

A Deputy Public Administrator is assigned the case for administration by the unit Supervisor. The Supervisor oversees the estate management to ascertain that fiduciary duties are acted upon timely and the mandates set by the Probate Code are followed. During the administration of the estate, the case manager conducts an investigation to locate all living heirs and known assets, handles asset collection and liquidation, sends notices to government authorities and creditors, pays valid claims and costs of administration, facilitates the preparation and payment of estate taxes and the Final Accounting that is filed with the court. The case manager may also contact heirs to clarify degree of kindred to the decedent, disposition of memorabilia (photos, keepsakes, etc.), in-kind distribution of assets, and the like. The goal of the case manager is to move the case along toward the earliest permissible distribution to the lawful 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.

Yes, except as otherwise provided by statue, every person appointed as personal representative shall provide 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 bond. The bond shall be for the benefit of interested person in the estate and shall be conditioned on the personal representative’s faithful execution of duties according to law. 

If the person appointed as the personal representative fails to give the required bond, letters for appointment will not be issued by the court. 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 as the personal representative. (Probate Code section 8480.)

If a person seeking appointment as the personal representative of an estate is unable to obtain the required bond, the Public Administrator may be nominated to act as the personal representative and will obtain the sufficient bonding through the County of Orange.

The role of the beneficiary to an estate is limited. As the appointed personal representative of an estate, the Public Administrator handles all aspects of the estate administration through distribution to the heirs. The Deputy Public Administrator case manager acts in the role of a fiduciary with the best interest of the estate. All decisions therefore regarding the collection, management, and liquidation of assets, including which vendors to use or legal direction to take, are made based upon the expertise of professionals. The Public Administrator utilizes experienced case managers, real estate experts, legal professionals, accountants, professional appraisers, etc. in making estate management decisions. While we cannot take direction from multiple parties, we do keep in contact with beneficiaries regarding the status of the administration, final accounting, and distribution. The case manager will also make efforts to accommodate beneficiaries’ requests for in-kind distribution of estate property, memorabilia and/or keepsakes. 

The beneficiary is also notified via legal notices of the location, date, and purpose of hearings. The beneficiary may receive notices regarding sale of real property, heirship petitions and other pertinent legal matters. It is not necessary that a beneficiary attend court hearing, but it is an option. The case manager is always available to answer questions regarding the status of any legal proceedings. 

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. (Probate Code section 8540.) 

The Inventory and Appraisal (I & A) is a complete listing of the estate assets as of a particular date, usually the date of death. 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 I & A shall be filed within four months after letters of administration are first issued by the Court to a general personal representative. (Probate Code sections 8802 & 8800.)

A creditor claim is a demand for payment for a liability of the decedent, whether arising in contract, tort or otherwise. Creditor claims also include funeral expenses, debts of the decedent’s paid by others, and 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. A creditor 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 estate property. (Probate Code section 9000.) 

The personal representative must provide notice of estate administration to all reasonably known creditors of the decedent and indicate that the creditor must file a creditor’s claim with the court and serve the claim upon the personal representative using statutorily prescribed forms found at Each claimant must file a Creditor’s Claim within four (4) months after the letters of appointment are issued or within 60 days of service of the notice of estate administration to creditors. 

It is difficult to give a specific timeframe in which a particular estate will be distributed and closed. There are many factors to be considered with an estate closing, many of these are out of the control of the Public Administrator. Each case and its circumstances are different. The length of time for case investigation, administration of estate, determination of heirship, final accounting and distribution can take from 12 months (an all cash estate) to two years or more for more complex estates. Factors that may affect the length of time include 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, the court calendar, litigation matters and the completion of the final accounting. It is suggested that any heir to an estate not plan financial affairs upon the expectation that funds will be received by a certain date. 

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. 

The sale of estate property is governed by the California Probate Code. All estate 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 an independent auction company by open bid to the highest bidder. At times, some personal property may be sold through a nationwide government auction website that only handles sales for city and county government agencies, or through other sales platforms that utilize a competitive bidding process.

Real property is marketed and sold through the Public Administrator’s in-house real estate broker. The property is always sold via a competitive bidding process either at public auction, or after being listed on the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) and marketed on numerous real estate websites. An independent professional appraisal of the property is obtained, and market trends and individual property conditions are analyzed by the Public Administrator’s Real Property Manager to determine what are the best marketing and sales methods for the estate. In a case where property is located out of the area or out of state, or requires specialized sales expertise or handling, the Public Administrator may retain a private real estate broker for the sale.

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. 

Yes, the Public Administrator maintains all funds in insured, interest-bearing accounts except when needed to pay claims and other expenses.

The Public Administrator approves or denies creditor claims and makes a final review of all tax liability and prepares a final accounting of the estate assets with the Court. When the final accounting and petition for final distribution is filed, 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 approving the accounting of the estate, 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 returns the order to the Public Administrator usually within four weeks after the hearing date. The cash distribution, and in some cases distribution of real or personal property, is made approximately two weeks after receiving the order from the Court.

The California Probate Code sets a statutory fee for attorneys and personal representatives (executor and administrator) for the administration of a decedent’s estate. When the Public Administrator is appointed to handle an estate, they employ the services of County Counsel are entitled to collect the personal representative fees and attorney fees. Additionally, an attorney and personal representative may request and be permitted by the Court to receive an amount above this standard fee if extraordinary services are performed, such as tax work, litigation, and other matters outside normal services. The statutory fees are only calculated on the value of the estate property that is subject to probate administration and accounted for by the personal representative. This is the total amount of the appraisal value 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. (See Probate Code section 10800.) The fee schedule set by statute:
Estate Assets Fees
First $ 100,000 4% Administration and 4% Legal
Next $ 100,000 3% Administration and 3% Legal
Next $ 800,000 2% Administration and 2% Legal
Next $ 9,000,000 1% Administration and 1% Legal

The Public Administrator, personal representative, or attorney is entitled to extraordinary fees for tax work, litigation or matters outside of normal legal or administrative services such as preliminary distributions, or complex accounting or investigations. All extraordinary fees must be approved by the Court before being paid. (See Probate Code section 10811.)