Opening an Estate Account in California
May 18, 2017 11:39 AM   Subscribe

My mother's estate did not require probate because she didn't have enough assets. But now, the bank won't let me deposit her many checks from her insurance and income tax refunds into her account. Because they are made out to The Estate. They said I need an estate account.

They also said I have to go to court to get a letter or probate to open the account. The thing is every lawyer we consulted and the STATE AS WELL said we didn't need to do probate because my mother's estate assets weren't enough to have to go through probate. But, the bank said we need to have an estate account and we need a letter from probate court and the court will want an accounting of all her assets and receipts and all that IS GONE. We were able to LEGALLY disburse her IRA and her FEDERAL EMPLOYEE SURVIVOR BENEFITS. No court needed. What do I do now? Do I need a lawyer? I suck at math and numbers. I have struggled trying to do this all along. It seems outrageous that I have to go to probate court when she doesn't need probate. I'm completely at a loss.
posted by generic230 to Law & Government (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why are the checks made out to The Estate when she has no estate? Can you have the checks reissued to yourself? Can you deposit them to your own account, endorsing them "Generic230, Executor" or "Generic230, Heir to Mother's Estate"?
posted by vignettist at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2017

Response by poster: That's how checks are made out when someone is receiving funds after dying. It's not to go to me or any of my brothers, it's part of her estate, to be then dispersed to the beneficiaries. Legally this is how they have to do it.
posted by generic230 at 12:08 PM on May 18, 2017

I am not a lawyer, but I am an executor/administrator of an estate. What I needed to open an estate account were what the courts in the state of the deceased person called "letters of office."

It took a while for the letters of office to make their way through the court, but once they arrived, anything I needed to do, they were what I needed to show to get it done. They prove that I am THE legal executor/administrator/whatever you want to call it.

Not everyone knows what they are called though - the Post Office said - "do you have power of attorney?" Internally I said - of course not, because you only have that when a person is alive. Externally I said - "here" and showed them my Letters of Office so that I could get whatever bills that the decedent had coming sent to my house, and write checks to pay them with from the estate account.

I am paying a lawyer to do the heavy lifting on this (otherwise, forget it) but if you have any questions, feel free to PM me.
posted by 41swans at 12:16 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

In Georgia, this is what I did with my wife's estate. This may or may not work in California, but the process may be similar.

1. File a petition with the probate court to have me named as the administrator of the estate (this was done by a paralegal friend of the family).

2. Once the petition was submitted and accepted (in Georgia this process varies on a county-by-county level), go meet the Probate Judge and swear an oath, and be given "Letters of Administration" proving that I was the administrator of the estate.

3. Take my letter of administration to the bank, who opened an Estate Account for me that I have total control of - I can deposit funds in this account and disburse them as needed using a debit card and checkbook issued directly to that account.

So I would check directly with the Probate office in the county where she lived and explain this to them, and see what they say. The Probate court may have a way to give you what you need to set up the estate account with the bank. At the very least, they should have some insight into the process, because this has to be a very common situation.

Also, my wife's IRA and life insurance passed directly to me, they did not (using the term the paralegal used here) "pass through the estate." When I was working to put together the probate petition those accounts / amounts never came up. Again, I'm in Georgia, but maybe the same situation applies in California.
posted by ralan at 12:22 PM on May 18, 2017

ps - anything with a named beneficiary doesn't count as "the estate." If there were named beneficiaries to the IRA and her fed employee benefits, that's why you were able to disburse them. (if not, then I have no idea. Again, IANAL.)
posted by 41swans at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2017

You don't need to go through the whole probate process, which can take an entire year. What you need are the letters of administration/office (or whatever they're called in your state) which are issued by the probate court. It won't be immediate because nothing ever is, but you should follow the steps that 41swans and ralan suggest. It took my cousin several months here to become the executor of the estate officially and get those letters, but that was because the probate clerk was on maternity leave for several months. Hopefully that won't be your experience.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:25 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that probate laws can very wildly from state to state. You may need something deeming you personal representative or the equivalent to set up an estate account. If the checks weren't coming in under the name of the estate, this would be much simpler, but they are, and as such the bank is going to require that the rules are followed. You'll probably have to go to probate court and talk with them; they'll have dealt with this situation before and can point you in the right direction.
posted by azpenguin at 2:00 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is not a legal answer... but have you tried just going to a different branch of the bank? I find that different tellers pay attention to different things, and I've deposited checks with my relatives' names into my own account.
posted by metasarah at 2:42 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

In PA they issue letters of testamentary and somebody gets named executor. It sounds like in CA it was not required by the state since you didn't meet some dollar threshold. But the bank requires it. So go file with the state even though you're not required to, then you can satisfy the bank's requirements. Don't waste too much time trying to figure it our or convince people, just jump through their hoops.
posted by fixedgear at 4:24 PM on May 18, 2017

>Keep in mind that probate laws can very wildly from state to state.

Very true. Most states have an accelerated procedure when there are minimal assets. But pay attention only to answers (1) from lawyers (2) licensed in California. Go back to one that you spoke with to discuss this new wrinkle.

The IRA and the Federal benefits passed by other means because they are controlled by Federal law.
posted by megatherium at 4:49 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

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