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What Is the Public Administrator?

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{Read in 4 Minutes}  The cast of characters who can appear in a Surrogate’s Court proceeding varies from Estate to Estate. You may have the Petitioner, who brings an application seeking Letters, incidents of the probate of a Will, or for when someone dies intestate. You may have people who are interested parties, whether they be next-of-kin, or creditors, who may wind up filing objections if there is going to be a Will Contest. In some proceedings, you have the Public Administrator taking an active role, so I’d like to focus today on the Public Administrator and how their office may become involved in an Estate. 

It’s important to distinguish the difference between the Administrator of an Estate and the Public Administrator. The Public Administrator refers solely to one government individual who is handling the affairs of this deceased. Whereas, the Administrator of the Estate refers to any fiduciary of an Estate where somebody died intestate. Simply put: the Public Administrator will serve as the Administrator of many people’s Estates; however, very few Administrators are the Public Administrator.

The Public Administrator can have a variety of roles in an Estate. Most commonly, the Public Administrator will serve as the Administrator of someone who dies without a Will and does not have any immediate next-of-kin who can serve as the Administrator of the Estate. Perhaps none of them are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or maybe they come from a family where everyone has a long history of felony convictions and are thus unable to serve as Administrators (although that might be a fun family reunion, depending on the nature of the convictions!). Or maybe the Court removed the Administrator for engaging in self-dealing or maybe the Administrator died before completely discharging their duties. Or perhaps nobody is interested in handling the task, thinking it may be more aggravation than it is worth. The Public Administrator is the person who can assist in all of these situations.

Each Public Administrator has a large staff to assist them with the various tasks of handling an Estate. Whether it is appraising real property or collecting intellectual property or reclaiming a deed that was fraudulently obtained — all of these are things the Public Administrator can handle. When it comes time to distribute the Estate’s funds, the Public Administrator will commence a kinship proceeding for the Court to identify the next-of-kin, approve their Accounting, and then make distributions to those people who are entitled to it.

The Public Administrator may have an additional role in certain types of cases. For example, the Public Administrator is a statutory party to a probate proceeding when the deceased person’s next-of-kin are more remote than the immediate family. If all members of the next-of-kin are first cousins or first cousins once removed (the children of your first cousins), the Public Administrator has a role in reviewing the Will, questioning the attorney that drafted the Will, and making a recommendation to the Court as to whether or not the Court should probate the Will. 

If you’re an interested party in an Estate where the Public Administrator is also a party, you should certainly treat them as a serious player at the table. They are charged with the authority of the Courts to protect the interests of the deceased person. And if they have inquiries, take them seriously. It’s often important to satisfy counsel for the Public Administrator to ensure quick and efficient administration of an Estate.

For more information on this topic, please contact me.