November 17, 2022

U.S. Residency Requirement for a CA Administrator

If a person passes away without a will in California and a probate is needed to administer their estate, an administrator will need to be appointed by a judge. Typically, the administrator will be a relative of the decedent such as a spouse or child. However, Probate Code §8402(a)(4) requires that this person be a U.S. resident.

A recent published appellate decision addressed the issue of what constitutes U.S. residency for purposes of being an administrator.

Estate of El Wardani, 82 Cal.App.5th 870 (2022) 

"Ramsey Walter El Wardani died intestate in 2016 and was survived by his wife Janine and daughter from a previous marriage, Alexandria (Ali). Four years into a protracted probate dispute between Janine and Ali, the court removed Janine as court-appointed administrator of Ramsey's estate. It deemed her ineligible to serve in that role because it found that she was not a United States (U.S.) resident as required by section 8402, subdivision (a)(4) of the Probate Code"

"In short, as a matter of law, a resident of the U.S. under section 8402, subdivision (a)(4) is a person who actually lives in the U.S. and is not merely present temporarily. U.S. residency is not established by mere connections alone."   

"In her 2021 declaration, Janine asserted that she "frequently come[s] to the United States (252 days in 2019 and 2020)" and noted several contacts and ties in California. She stated that she grew up in California and has family here, holds a California driver's license, voted in San Diego County (including in 2016, 2018, and 2020), maintained medical providers and attorneys in California, and held bank accounts and paid taxes in California. Janine disavowed any intent to become a permanent resident or citizen of Mexico, explaining that she stayed in Mexico on a tourist visa and did not speak fluent Spanish. Yet in that same declaration, Janine confirmed that she still owned a home in Mexico. The only reason she stayed there was because "[she] own[ed] a house there, free and clear, where [she could] live inexpensively." She claimed her plan was to "sell [the] home in Mexico and return to live permanently in the United States" after the probate case was over."

"At best, while Janine had many contacts with the U.S. and visited frequently, there was no evidence that she actually lived anywhere but Mexico since moving there in 2014. Her bank accounts, doctors, and family gave her several reasons to visit California, but those visits did not establish residency on their own. Janine was not a person who lived in California and temporarily found herself in Mexico, but rather someone who lived in Mexico and made frequent but temporary visits to the U.S. Accordingly, sufficient evidence supports the court's finding that Janine was not a "resident of the United States" as required by section 8402, subdivision (a)(4), and there was no abuse of discretion in ordering her removal as administrator of Ramsey's estate."