Public Administrator

The Public Administrator function:

  • protect the decedent’s property from waste, loss or theft
  • make appropriate burial arrangements
  • conduct thorough investigations to discover all assets
  • liquidate assets at public sale or distribute assets to heirs
  • pay the decedent’s bills and taxes
  • locate persons entitled to inherit from the estate and ensure that these individuals receive their inheritance

The Public Administrator acts under the authority of the Superior Court.

Referral Line: (650) 573-3475

Information and Inquiry Line: (650) 573-2736
Fax: (650) 573-2310


FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When is an estate handled by the Public Administrator?
A: The Public Administrator may be appointed under the following circumstances:

1. When no executor or administrator has been appointed
2. When ordered by the Court
3. When the heir, or the majority of heirs nominates the Public Administrator, or the will names the Public Administrator
4. When there are no known heirs of the estate
5. When an heir who nominates the Public Administrator to act on their stead
6. When the named executor fails to act

Q: Does the Public Administrator make a thorough investigation to discover all estate assets?
A: At the time of the initial investigation, the Deputy Public Administrator looks for all information, which may lead to actual assets of the decedent estate. This information is used during the administration of the estate to marshal and liquidate the assets.

Q: What is a probate estate?
A: A formal probate proceeding is the method commonly known for administration of estates. It is used for estates with a date-of-death value exceeding $150,000. An estate of this size is handled under the Superior Court. The proceeding commences from the first filing of a petition and appointment of an administrator, executor or if appropriate the Public Administrator.

Q: What is a summary estate?
A: A summary probate estate is an estate where the total value of the assets is over $50,000 and less than $150,000.

Q: What is a small (7660) estate?
Estate not exceeding $50,000 in value are considered small, non-count, or 7600 estates. The Public Administrator may act without court authorization to marshal and distribute the assets of these estates pursuant to Probate Code 7600-7666.

Q: What is an indigent estate?
A: Estates without sufficient funds for disposition of the decedent remains when the named beneficiaries have not nominated someone, or when there is no one with higher priority to act, the county assumes the responsibility.

Q: How much are the fees of the Public Administrator?
A: The California Probate Code provides for statutory fees for all executors, administrators and their attorneys. The Public Administrator and his attorney are entitled to the same compensation as other administrators and attorneys. The fees are based on a percentage basis calculated on the value of the estate. The statutory fees are figured 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
.5% of next $15,000,000
over $25,000,000 is subject to court's discretion

A reasonable amount will be determined by the court on all amounts above $25,000,000

In addition to statutory fees, the court may award extraordinary fees for extra work such as selling property, litigation to collect assets, defending actions against the estate and other similar matters. All fees must be approved by the Probate Court, usually at the time of the final accounting. The minimum estate fee is $1,000 for non-court 7600 cases.

Q: When will the estate be distributed?
A: It is difficult to give a specific answer to exactly when the distribution will take place, since so many factors are out of the control of the Public Administrator. Generally, do not expect any distribution before fourteen (14) months from the appointment of the Administrator for small non-court estates. For your own peace of mind, do not plan your financial affairs upon the expectation that you will be receiving a certain amount on a certain date.

Q: While the estate is in administration, is the money in the estate earning interest?
A: Yes, the Public Administrator maintains all funds in an FDIC insured interest bearing account.

Q: Can I put in a claim for my expenses?
A: If you paid any debts of the decedent or any part of the funeral expenses, you should file a Creditor's Claim within four (4) months after the appointment of the Administrator. Creditor Claims may be obtained at any legal bookstore.

Q: Is the Public Administrator bonded?
A: The Public Administrator does not have an official bond because it is self-insured through the County of San Mateo. Estates are charged Bond Fees in order to reimburse the County for the estate's share of the cost.

Q: When will charges be paid?
A: The Administrator pays, as sufficient funds become available. If the funeral director or mortuary is contacting family members or heirs for payment, he should be referred to the Public Administrator's Office. If the family made arrangements and they agreed to pay for services, the estate will reimburse only to the degree that is considered reasonable, what the law allows and the Deputy Public Administrator has previously agreed to.

Q: Will I receive a statement of all receipts and disbursements?
A: On Formal Probates, a copy of the accounting and report will be mailed to the heirs or legatees when it is submitted to the court for approval. The heirs or legatees will also receive a copy of any amended or second accountings that are prepared and submitted to the court.

Q: Can you give me the exact financial status of the estate?
A: No, a complete accounting will be given upon the final distribution. Statements from this office prior to the actual final accounting would be estimates only.

Q: Why don't I receive regular reports on the progress of the estate?
A: The Public Administrator has limited resources and staff to keep each heir informed of the current status of the cases. The primary function of this office is to administer estates, to marshall all assets of the decedent, pay creditors, and if there is a remaining balance of funds in the estate, to distribute it to those legally entitled as heirs or legatees under a Will. Although the Administrator has definite procedures for informing heirs or legatees during the course of the administration, this is not their first obligation and the time of the staff must be primarily devoted to the actual administration of the estate. We will attempt to answer as promptly as possible all correspondence by return mail.

Q: Can I have a copy of the death certificate?
A: Certified copies of the death certificate may be obtained by contacting the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk office by phone at (650) 363-4500 or visit their office at 555 County Center, 1st Floor, Redwood City, CA 94063. A copy can also be obtained through the Office of Vital Statistics of the county where the decedent died. The Office of Vital Statistics for San Mateo County is located at the Health System building, first floor at 225 37th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403.

Q: Will the Public Administrator make funeral arrangements?
A: When possible, a Deputy Public Administrator will work with the family to make the necessary funeral arrangements. At their request or in their absence, the Deputy will assume the responsibility and make the necessary arrangements.

Q: What type of funeral arrangements will be made?
A: Arrangements will be made in accordance with any pre-need plans of the decedent or the ability of the estate to pay.

Q: Do I need to hire an attorney to represent my interests?
A: It is not necessary to hire an attorney. The attorney for the Public Administrator handles the ordinary administration of the estate. If, however, your right to inherit is not clear, you are advised to retain legal counsel to represent your potential interests. The fees for such attorney representation are a matter of private agreement between you and your attorney and it is not a cost the estate is responsible for.

Q: How can I help speed up the administration?
A: You can give great assistance by completing fully and returning promptly, all forms sent to you.

Q: Why does a small estate take so long to Administer?
A: There is a general misconception that a very small estate should take less time than a large estate. Actually, the small estate may often take longer since interim decisions must be based on very accurate estimates and there is no room to cover possible error.

Q: Why is property sold?
A: If an estate is insolvent and there is insufficient cash to pay claims and expenses, the Public Administrator needs to sell real property, securities or jewelry to pay for the debts incurred by the deceased.

Q: How is property sold in the estate?
A: The California Probate Code governs all sales and a certified appraiser will appraise all probate assets. The law imposes certain restrictions on the sale of assets for less than their appraised value. All personal property is sold at auction by open bid to the highest bidder. Securities are sold without notice.

Q: Can I bid on property?
A: Yes, at open bid for personal and real property. Sealed bids are processed on real property and the highest acceptable bid is taken to court for confirmation, where an overbid option is available.  Personal property is sold at auction.

Q: Can the Public Administrator, her deputies or her attorney buy estate property?
A: No. All sales of property to the Public Administrator, her deputies or employees of the Health System / Aging and Adult Services are forbidden by law.

Q: When are the personal property auctions held?
A: Auctions have historically been held monthly.

Q: Where are the personal property auctions held?
A: The auctions are held at DGW Auctioneers, 760 Kifer Road, Sunnyvale, CA 94086

Q: What time does the auction start?
A: The auction usually starts at 10:00 A.M., call to confirm (408) 245-1863

Q: What is sold at an auction?
A: All types of personal property--Automobiles, jewelry, collectibles, clothing, furniture, tools, electronics, etc.

Q: Real Property
A: All real property in full probate estates is sold only after notice of sale, notice of the report of sale, and confirmation by the court. The real property is listed through a real estate professional and sales are confirmed by the Probate Court.

Q: What types of real property are sold?
A: The types of properties range from unimproved land to apartment buildings, to single-family residences.

Q: What are the terms of sales?
A: The highest bidder is subject to court confirmation where the court will entertain overbids before escrow can commence. The real estate professional listing the property should be contacted for additional information regarding the unique procedures for selling probate real properties.

Q: How do I place an overbid?
A: To place an overbid at the court confirmation hearing, you must have in your possession a cashier's check payable to "San Mateo County Public Administrator for the estate of [the deceased]" for the required 10% overbid deposit and any additional amount that is bid in the event of additional bids. Once the overbid amount is determined, the judge will set the amount of increments for accepting additional overbids.

Q: How much is the minimum required overbid?
A: The minimum required overbid amount is calculated by using the following formula: Original bid amount, less $10,000, then multiplied by 5%, plus $1,000. This amount is added to the current highest bid.

Example - Highest current bid is $500,000:
Step 1: $500,000 - $10,000 = $490,000
Step 2: $490,000 x 5% = $24,500
Step 3: 24,500 + $1,000 = $25,500 which is the minimum overbid amount
Minimum Overbid: $525,500