In most cases in California, after a death, an estate representative will close out the estate through the probate process. The California Courts note that smaller estates may not need to go through probate and an informal estate representative will complete the process.
When the formal probate process is necessary, the court appoints one or more estate representatives.
If the deceased named someone in a will
A judge usually appoints the person or persons who the deceased named in his or her will. However, there may be exceptions. For example, according to the California Probate Code, a judge may not appoint someone who is a minor or someone who is a ward of a guardian or conservator. In that case, the judge may simply appoint the guardian or conservator or may choose someone else.
Likewise, if there are conflicts of interest or another challenge by those who have an interest in the estate, the wishes of the deceased may not stand.
If there is no will
The courts have a list of priority for who may be the estate administrator if the person died intestate. This begins with the spouse or domestic partner, then moves to the children, then the grandchildren, then other issue of the deceased. The list continues in this order:
- Nieces and nephews
- Children or grandchildren of grandparents
- Children or grandchildren of a deceased spouse or domestic partner
The person with priority may nominate someone else, and the judge will consider that nomination before the next person in order of priority unless the nominated person is further down on the list than the grandparents.
Other factors may apply, and much of the outcome is dependent on the discretion of the judge, so it is wise to have a thorough understanding of the Probate Code before filing a challenge.