Santa Clara, CA asked in Estate Planning and Family Law for California

Q: As next next of kin, do I have authority to secure property for decedent estranged from her only son, whereabouts???

Cousin passed (indigent), estranged from son lost to CPS and adopted; no other heirs but 4 cousins. Contacted through medical records, I was the closest. Can I legally act as agent to secure her property, make decisions, and conduct discovery for legal docs? Son expressed no interest in the estate and wanted nothing to do with my cousin. Someone needs to make decisions around pets, personal effects, RE, cremation. The Coroners Office is seeking final arrangements from the family, or indigent cremation. Do we just allow the state take over? If we can even find her son, I need to know who her lawyer is to make the call...that's not my place.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Julie King
Julie King
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Monterey, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: If your cousin had signed a Health Care Directive, that document would say who has the right to make her final arrangements. If you don't know whether she signed a Health Care Directive, the hospital may know and/or the Coroner may allow you to make the call. You can pay for the cremation and seek reimbursement from your cousin's funds when you can access them, or you can tell the Coroner to handle the cremation as an indigent cremation. I don't know in what state your cousin lived and/or if the costs of an indigent cremation would need to be repaid if it turns out your cousin had money to pay for those costs.

Please know that no one has an automatic right to take over someone else's assets. A lawyer would need more information to properly advise you about this topic, but I can let you know some general rules that might apply to your situation.

If there are personal items you have been asked to retrieve from a hospital or other place, you will likely be able to get those items. But do not get rid of them until you know if you are required to go through the Probate Court before her assets can be distributed. If you are the closest living relative besides her son who was adopted, then you MAY end up inheriting the assets. But a court will likely need to make that determination if there is no trust or will.

Finally, if your cousin lived in California and the total value of her assets is less than $166,250, you may be able to use an affidavit to access her assets rather than going through the probate court. But you'd be required to sign under penalty of perjury that her assets did not exceed that amount.

As you can tell, there is a lot to do when someone passes away. If you need help, hire a lawyer to assist you.

Yelena Gurevich and Nina Whitehurst agree with this answer

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