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Probate Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if an emergency arises before a personal representative is appointed? (for California)
Appointment of a Special Administrator:
It generally takes four to six weeks from the time a petition for probate is filed until Letters can be issued to the personal representative. If an emergency situation exists so that appointment is urgently needed before the Petition for Probate can be heard by the Probate Judge, you may file a separate Petition for Letters of Special Administration. Letters of Special Administration are temporary Letters that can be approved by the Probate Judge for a specific purpose on an ex parte basis (without a hearing).
Typical situations where Letters of Special Administration would be appropriate include where the decedent owned a business and a legal representative must be appointed to run the business and sign payroll checks. Letters of Special Administration could also be issued if the decedent sold real property and opened an escrow but died before the escrow was closed.
A Petition for Letters of Special Administration will not be approved unless a Petition for Probate has also been filed. You should use the Petition for Probate form, Judicial Council Form DE-111, including an Attachment under Section 3.f.(3) specifying the reason why Letters of Special Administration are needed and the specific powers needed. You should then make an appointment with the Probate Staff Attorney to review the Petition for Letters of Special Administration.
You must also bring an Order Appointing Special Administrator and signed Letters of Special Administration. The Probate Staff Attorney will review the documents to make sure they are properly completed and that they are clear as to the specific authority needed. The Probate Staff Attorney will then present the Petition for Letters of Special Administration to the Probate Judge.
If the Probate Judge approves the petition, you can pick up the signed Order and Letters at the Probate Filing Window. If you would like certified copies of the Letters, a separate fee will need to be paid.
Letters of Special Administration are valid only for a limited period of time, generally until the hearing date on the Petition for Probate. During the period when the Letters of Special Administration are in effect, the personal representative will be referred to as a Special Administrator, even though he or she may be nominated in the decedent's Will as executor.
In addition, Letters of Special Administration will ordinarily be approved only for the specific purpose requiring immediate attention, and the Order Appointing Special Administrator must include an attachment identifying the specific powers given to the Special Administrator. A Special Administrator will be given general powers of a personal representative only in rare situations where a general personal representative cannot be appointed for a lengthy period of time (for example, because of a Will contest or litigation over who should be appointed as personal representative).
In addition, publication must have been completed before general powers can be granted, so even though a special a Special Administrator with specific powers or with the limited powers allowed by probate code section 8544 may be appointed on an ex parte basis, a Special Administrator with general powers cannot be appointed on an ex parte basis. See also Local Probate Rule 3 A.