Trusts and Estates

Estate of El Wardani

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Cite as D079406
Filed August 31, 2022, Fourth District, Div. One

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Headnote:  Residency Requirement for Personal Representatives

Summary:  A California personal representative must reside in the United States, and having many contacts with the U.S., including maintaining bank accounts, doctors, and frequent visits, is not sufficient to qualify as a resident.

Wardani was appointed as administrator of her deceased husband’s estate after representing that she was a California resident.  Later, decedent’s daughter objected to the reissuance of Wardani’s letters on the grounds that Wardani was not a U.S. resident.  The trial court reasoned that to be a resident, an individual had to be either domiciled or temporarily reside in the U.S.  The court held that Wardani was not a resident because she and the decedent had a plan to retire in Mexico, bought a house in Mexico and moved there, and Wardani lived there “full time.”    

The appellate court affirmed.  A “resident of the United States” is someone who actually lives in the U. S., not someone who temporarily visits.  The appellate court did not resolve the question as to whether a personal representative is required to be domiciled in the U. S.  Rather, the appellate court analyzed the “actual residence” requirement.  Substantial evidence supported the probate court’s finding that Wardani did not reside in the United States.  Wardani had many contacts with the U.S., such as (1) her family residing in California, (2) holding a California driver’s license, (3) voting in San Diego County, (4) maintaining medical providers and attorneys in California, (5) holding bank accounts in California, and (6) paying California taxes.  Wardani also disavowed any intent to become a permanent resident of Mexico because she stayed in Mexico on a tourist visa and did not speak fluent Spanish.  However, Wardani owned a home in Mexico and – by her own admission – planned to sell it and return to the U. S. after the probate case was over.  Thus, while Wardani had many U.S. contacts and frequently visited the U.S., at the time of the administration, there was no evidence that Wardani lived anywhere but Mexico.  Connections cannot alone establish residency.  Accordingly, sufficient evidence supported the probate court’s finding that Wardani was “not a resident of the United States” for purposes of serving as administrator.

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