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The Dangers of Not Naming a Personal Representative for Your Estate

Naming an executor or personal representative is a critical element of preparing your last will and testament. If you die without leaving a will, California law authorizes a probate judge to appoint an “administrator” for your estate, who functions the same as an executor or personal representative. In theory, any person can petition the court for appointment as administrator of an estate where there’s no will, but state law establishes a priority for such claims. That does not mean, however, that disputes don’t arise, as one recent decision by the California Court of Appeals illustrates.

Tice v. Noroski
This case is discussed here for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Ulrike Schenider died in 2009 without a will. Schneider’s next-of-kin was her mother, Erika Schneider. Under California probate law, Erika Schneider heir to her daughter’s estate. She would also be entitled to priority appointment as administrator of the estate except for the fact she was a resident of Germany. California, like most states, does not permit non-U.S. residents to serve as administrators or personal representatives of estates.

Recently, the California legislature amended the Probate Code to allow excluded foreign residents to nominate administrators to serve in their place, but unfortunately this rule did not apply retroactively to Ulrike Schneider’s estate. Instead, two competition petitions were filed with the court seeking appointment.

The first petitioner was Daniel Noroski. He’d been Schneider’s live-in boyfriend for several years. Noroski initially misled the court about the relationship, claiming he’d married Schenider in Germany. In fact, they were neither spouses nor registered domestic partners, either of which would have entitled Noroski to priority appointment status. As it was, he had no special claim to serve as Schneider’s administrator.

Erika Schneider objected to Noroski’s petition. Her attorney, Jim Travis Tice, filed his own petition for appointment as administrator. Like Noroski, he also had no priority right to the job. It was therefore up to the court to decide which petition to grant.

Noroski argued that the Orange County Public Administrator should be named as the administrator. Each California county has a public administrator who can serve as a personal representative of “last resort” when there is no will and no other qualified person is available. In this case, however, the Orange County Public Administrator was not required to serve and it declined to do so. The probate court, finding Noroski unreliable, granted Tice’s petition and named him administrator. Noroski appealed, but the California Court of Appeals found no reason to reverse the lower court’s decision.

Make Sure You Have a Personal Representative
Cases like this reiterate the importance of making a will and nominating a qualified personal representative. If you’re contemplating naming a personal representative who might not reside in the United States (or California) in the future, always make sure you name one or more alternates. Don’t let a probate judge decide who should be in charge of your affairs! Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady in San Diego today if you have any questions.

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