The Public Administrator serves the community by assisting the Orange County Sheriff/Coroner, Hospitals and Mortuaries when an individual expires within the county. Our staff compassionately reaches out to family members to discuss options on making funeral arrangements, coordinating indigent burials, and conducting will searches when appropriate.

When there is no immediate family member available to handle decedent’s estate, the Public Administrator has certain unique powers to secure real and personal property until an eligible personal representative is appointed. The Public Administrator protects the assets and manages the affairs of deceased residents of Orange County who at the time of death left no known heirs, no will, no named executor or an executor who is ineligible.

The Public Administrator staff conducts investigations only after a referral is received into the office and the Public Administrator determines that the office has jurisdiction over the investigation. The Public Administrator also receives referrals from the Superior Court known as an Order to Show Cause.

When the criteria have been met, the referral is accepted into the office for an investigation. The investigation may include a nationwide search for next of kin, a search of the decedent’s home or place of death for documents for the disposition of the decedent’s remains. The investigation will also include a search for other legal documents such as a trust or will. 

If a will is found the Public Administrator or custodian of the will shall deliver the will to the Clerk of the Superior Court. If instructions for the disposition of the decedent’s remains are found, the Public Administrator shall promptly deliver the instructions to the person upon whom the right to control the disposition of the decedent’s remains.

If other property is located, the Public Administrator shall take possession or control of any property that, in the sole discretion of the Public Administrator is deemed to be the subject to loss, injury, waste, or misappropriation and that is located anywhere in the state or that is subject to the laws of the state. The Public Administrator does not have any liability for loss, injury, waste or misappropriation of property of which he or she is unable to take possession or control.

 During the investigation, the Public Administrator who is authorized to take possession or control of property of the decedent pursuant to the Probate Code may issue a written certification of the fact. The written certification will allow the Public Administrator to obtain information concerning the property of the deceased, grant the Public Administrator access to a safe deposit box for the inspection or removal of a will or any instructions for the disposition of the decedent’s remains. The written certification may also allow for the surrender to the Public Administrator any property of the decent that in the sole discretion of the Public Administrator is deemed to be the subject to loss, injury, waste or misappropriation.

After the investigation is completed, the Public Administrator may petition the Superior Court for appointment as personal representative of the estate if no person having higher priority has petitioned for appointment and the total value of the property in the decedent’s estate exceeds one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). 


After the Public Administrator completes an investigation and a determination is made to open an estate the Public Administrator will file a petition for appointment as personal representative of the estate, the court will set a date for the hearing. The Public Administrator will accept appointment as the personal representative of the estate when so ordered by the court.

When appropriate the Public Administrator may proceed with summary disposition of the estate pursuant to the Probate Code; if the value of the property in the decedent’s estate does not exceed the amount prescribed in the Probate Code and a person having higher priority has not assumed responsibility for the administration of the estate.

When the Public Administrator is appointed to administer an estate as the personal representative, Letters of Administration are issued by the court. A notation is made in the Letters whether the personal representative is authorized to act under the Independent Administration of Estates Act. If authorized the independent administration authority includes the power to sell real property, grant an option to purchase real property and borrow money with the loan secured by an encumbrance upon real property.

An administrator with the will annexed shall be appointed as personal representative if no executor or all of the executors named in the will or if the sole executor or all the executors named in the will have waived the right to appointment or are for any reason unwilling or unable to act. If a decedent dies intestate, the court shall appoint an administrator as personal representative. This is subject to the provisions of the Probate Code as the administrator in certain order of priority.

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.

Immediate action is taken to marshal all known assets of the decedent as well as searching for assets not readily known. After all the assets are placed under control, the Public Administrator is required to file an Inventory and Appraisal within four months after letters are first to a general personal representative.  The inventory and appraisal shall separately list each item and shall state the fair market value of the item at the time of the decedent’s death.

The Inventory including partial and supplemental inventories shall include all property to be administered in the decedent’s estate. The appraisal of the property in the inventory shall be made by the personal representative, probate referee, or independent expert.

During the administration of the estate creditor claim(s) are processed. The 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. Some examples are liability of the decedent arising in contract, tort or otherwise, liability for taxes, whether assessed before or after the decedent’s death, other than property taxes and assessments secured by real property liens. When a creditor claim is processed, the personal representative shall allow or reject the claim in whole or in part.

During the administration of the decedent’s estate, the personal representative will give notice to the Department of Health Services. This notice allows for the recovery of costs from the deceased or deceased spouse for health services provided. Notices are sent to the Internal Revenue Service and State Franchise Tax Board reporting the death and appointment of the personal representative.

There are many steps in the administration of the decedent’s estate, at times real or personal property must be sold by the personal representative. The real property is sold through the Public Administrator Real Property Agent. The personal property is sold by the Public Administrator Personal Property Services.

During the administration of the decedent’s estate, the Public Administrator places the estate funds into a separate estate account. This account provides a financial statement for the report of the administration. From this account the personal representative makes payment of debt. The debts and tax issues are processed through the Public Administrator Financial Services.

When the administration of the estate is completed by the personal representative, the personal representative petitions the court for final distribution of the estate. At the time of the hearing the court determines that the requirements for the distribution are satisfied, the court shall order distribution of the decedent’s estate by court order. The order will name the person(s) and the share to which each is entitled.

The Public Administrator has the authority to administer the estate of missing persons whom are presumed to be dead. In the proceedings under this part, a person who has not been seen or heard from for a continuous period of five years by those who are likely to have seen or heard from that person, and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after a diligent search or inquiry is presumed to be dead. The person’s death is presumed to have occurred at the end of the period unless there is sufficient evidence to establish that death occurred earlier.

Real Property Sales

The Public Administrator currently conducts live auctions. All listed properties can be viewed on our site. 

Personal Property Sales:

Items such as furniture, jewelry, tools, and art objects belonging to the estates of decedents are sold by third party auctioneers.