An Estate Administrator of Last Resort

Charlie’s neighbor passed away years ago, but the neighbor’s house has remained empty and unclaimed. Nobody seems to want to touch the property. What can Charlie do?
There is no easy fix. Charlie’s first thought might be to try to claim the property through adverse possession. Claiming property through adverse possession is actually quite rare. In California, a person would have to possess the property to the exclusion of all others, do so continuously, without interruption for a period of five years. In addition, the possession of the property must be open and obvious to the community. Finally, the adverse possessor must pay all the property taxes for the five-year time frame. Rarely do people take on such endeavors without any security of the interest they are seeking to claim. Just imagine taking on that risk for four years just to have someone with a greater legal right to the property coming along and evicting you.

Another option would be for Charlie to press the issue in Probate Court. If a person dies, and nobody steps forward with a will, then that person is said to have died “intestate”. This means that statutory presumptions largely govern to whom the person’s property is to be distributed. Regularly, a decedent’s family members step forward to become the estate administrator. Again, statutes set out a whole list of 18 classes of people in a presumed order of priority for who gets to be the administrator, including in-laws and even creditors. Finally, last in line, is “any other person”.

Charlie could petition the Probate Court to become the administrator of his neighbor’s estate. This would give Charlie the authority to sell the property, assuming no heirs suddenly came out of the woodwork to claim the property. If Charlie is aware of some heirs, he may want to consider his options. If he wants the property for himself, he might try to first get the heirs to transfer their rights to the property to him. Regardless, at the end of the day, if Charlie becomes the administrator of his neighbor’s estate, and sells the property, he should be entitled to statutory fees from the proceeds of the sale of the property. Not a bad outcome for stepping up.

David J. Hallstrom, Esq. and his trust and probate litigation team are here to help with any of your trust or probate concerns. We bring a broad base of experience and a global perspective to help you achieve effective, practical, and timely results.

Call David J. Hallstrom at (888) 308-1261 to schedule your consultation.

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