Most California probate cases follow a predictable pattern. Once a petition for probate is filed, it generally takes the court four to six weeks to issue letters to the estate’s representatives officially appointing them. But what happens if an emergency situation arises? For example, if the deceased owned a business and a representative is needed urgently to sign checks and keep the business operating, four to six weeks may be too long to wait.
If an urgent situation means that the estate needs an appointment before the probate court can hear the Petition for Probate, then you can also file a Petition for Letters of Special Administration. California Code §8540 permits the court to appoint a temporary administrator to exercise any powers that are necessary on behalf of the estate. Letters of Special Administration are temporary letters from the court that can be issued ex parte, or without a hearing, for a specific purpose.
A special administrator is a temporary fiduciary appointed by the court to preserve and manage the estate’s assets. The special administrator can be appointed whether or not there is a will. Their powers can vary, but a special administrator may be useful if someone is needed to preserve or gather the estate’s assets, to complete the sale of real property, to manage a business, to continue paying a mortgage where the lender isn’t willing to wait, to protect an asset from being hidden or taken, to respond to a default on real property, and even to maintain or sell livestock or perishable goods.
If the court doesn’t tailor the special administrator’s duties, they generally only have limited powers to take possession of property, collect income, and file or defend lawsuits. A court may grant more general powers to a special administrator if the appointment of a personal representative or executor will be delayed for months, such as when there is a dispute over who should be the executor.
While special administration can seem complicated, it doesn’t have to be. I can help guide your family through this difficult time and ensure that the assets of a loved one are preserved as they should be. If you have questions about your estate planning or the estate of a loved one, call me at 714-639-1990 or send me an email to schedule a consultation.