A family member has died and you have to open a probate estate (if he died with a will or with no estate plan) or administer the decedent’s trust (if he had created a revocable living trust). In what county do you open the estate?
The county where an estate is handled is the county where the decedent was domiciled. Domicile is the permanent residence of an individual. In most cases, it is clear where the decedent was domiciled but in a few instances it may not be so clear.
If a decedent died in a hospital while on vacation, from accident, surgery, or illness, his domicile is still where he lived permanently, so if that is San Diego county, then the San Diego Probate Court would be where the will is admitted to probate or San Diego would be where the trust is administered. On the other hand, what if the decedent decided to move to another county to live with relatives or to live in an assisted living facility? Then domicile has to be determined by looking at such factors as where the decedent owned property; where was the residence of the decedent; where did the decedent receive mail, where was the decedent registered to vote; in what state was the decedent’s driver’s license issued. These factors may lead a court to conclude that the intent of the decedent was to change his domicile to another county.
Another situation in which domicile can be an issue is when the decedent was in the military. People in the military may be stationed or deployed at one location and maintain a residence elsewhere. The general rule is that the county of domicile is where the decedent resided, whether at the time of enlistment or where his family lives and owns the family home at the time he died.
For questions about where to file for probate or administer a living trust, call the estate planning lawyers at Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation for a free consultation.