public administrator

Primary tabs


A public officer appointed by the court to administer the estates of decedents where there is no relative or other person entitled to act.

Order of Preference

The office of the public administrator was created for the purpose of providing a public official to take charge of the estate on the theory that it would be better for such estates to have some competent public official act, as opposed to a creditor who would only be interested to the extent of their personal claim. In California, relatives of the decedent are preferred to the public administrator, and the public administrator is preferred to creditors.


In New York, the public administrator has all the powers given by law to a fiduciary of a decedent's estate and is authorized to:

  1. Sell personal property of the decedent at public auction pursuant to notice appearing for 3 successive days prior to the sale in a newspaper published in the county pursuant to statutory provisions.
  2. Retain marketable securities beyond 4 months after letters have been granted to him provided that the court has so permitted by order.
  3. Serve process on creditors, legatees or other persons interested, distributees, domiciled outside the city of New York by certified mail, return receipt requested, whenever directed by the court by order in any proceeding, the provisions of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act notwithstanding. Such service shall be valid if made at least 30 days before the return day thereof.
  4. Distribute without an accounting proceeding the assets of any estate defined as a small estate and, upon distribution, to take the costs and commissions ordinarily allowed by the court upon the entry of a decree upon final accounting.
  5. File in the court an informatory account in a form prescribed by rule where the gross value of the assets of the estate accounted for does not exceed the monetary amount defined as a small estate and shall serve a copy of such informatory accounting by certified mail on all interested parties at least 30 days prior to filing with the court.
  6. Pay for the use and benefit of an infant distributee or legatee who has no guardian of the property the share or legacy due the infant if not exceeding $5,000 by payment thereof in the discretion of the public administrator to a parent or to an adult competent person with whom the infant resides.
  7. Pay or deliver to the commissioner of finance of the city of New York the balance of any moneys or other assets in his hands remaining after settlement of his account or the filing of an informatory account, where payable to persons under disability or whose shares are to be deposited pursuant to law.
  8. Apply ex parte or upon such notice as directed by the court for an order or decree in any appropriate proceeding requiring the city of New York to return to the public administrator any money or unliquidated assets theretofore deposited by the public administrator and remaining in the treasury of the city of New York and upon further order of the court to make distribution of such recovered funds to the persons entitled thereto.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]