Beyond the immediate arrangements – what the State of California requires you to do when a friend or family member dies who entrusted you with his or her will.
When a friend or family member dies, there are a number of immediate arrangements which must be made, including notifying friends and family, making funeral or service arrangements, arranging for care of pets, collecting the decedent’s mail, informing insurers, notifying Social Security Administration and payors of any pensions, obtaining certified copies of the death certificate, and the list goes on….
There is another step, however, that is often overlooked during this emotional and stressful time. If the decedent entrusted you with his or her will, California law also requires you to find the original will and “lodge” or file it with the Clerk of the Superior Court of the county in which the decedent’s estate may be administered. This must be done in all cases, even if the will is not to be probated, and it must be done right away.
The reason you need to lodge the will with the court is that California Probate Code Section 8200 makes the “custodian” of the will, defined as the person entrusted with the deceased’s will, liable for all damages to any person injured by the failure to “lodge” the will with the court within 30 days of death. Once the will is lodged with the court by the custodian, it becomes a public document which allows creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, and others who may have an interest in the decedent’s estate to access the will and make claims. If, for example, the will was not lodged with the court and a creditor finds out about the death after the estate has already been distributed, you, as the custodian, may be liable for damages to that creditor.
It is noteworthy that there is typically a $50 court filing fee to lodge the will with the court. However, the same Probate Code allows you to be reimbursed for this fee from the decedent’s estate. So, when a loved one dies who has entrusted you with his or her will, beyond the immediate arrangements, make sure that you find the original will and take it, along with the $50 payment, to the Clerk of the Superior Court of the county in which the decedent’s estate may be administered, and lodge it with the court (keeping your receipt for later reimbursement). Ultimately, the $50 cost for lodging the will and your time spent doing so is much cheaper in the long run than the liability for damages that comes with not lodging the will.
If you have any questions about this article or would like further information, contact our firm or another attorney who practices in estate planning and probate in California.
Authored by Greg Chilina and Co-Authored by Karen Chilina