The process starts with a referral to the Public Administrator by the Coroner, a hospital, a mortuary, or relatives of a decedent.
When it appears that no one is acting to handle the decedent’s estate, the Public Administrator makes a diligent search to locate a will and the names and addresses of heirs. The Public Administrator attempts to contact heirs to determine if they intend to handle the estate.
The Public Administrator has the responsibility to take possession or control of the decedent’s property. The Public Administrator may make arrangements for the disposition of the decedent's remains. If there are sufficient funds to carry out the decedent’s written directives for final disposition, those instructions are followed. The Public Administrator liquidates the decedent's personal property to satisfy creditors who have made legitimate claims against the estate. Assets of the estate are distributed to those entitled to inherit them. When there is no will, the proper order of persons entitled to inherit is listed in the California Probate Code. When heirs cannot be found, the remaining funds are escheated to the state. If an heir comes forward later, they may recover the funds through a claim to the State Controller.