This page provides guidance for clients and family members of a deceased lawyer.
For lawyers assisting in transferring or closing a practice when a lawyer dies, please see this webpage.
Losing a lawyer can be a difficult and unexpected situation that can leave you feeling uncertain about your legal matters. It is essential to understand your options following the death of your lawyer.
If you can’t reach your lawyer, use our website’s Attorney Search feature. Search by name. If the lawyer is listed as “Inactive” or a status other than “Deceased,” please use the contact information on the attorney’s profile to try contacting their office. If you still cannot get in touch with your lawyer, please call the State Bar at 800-843-9053.
If you know your lawyer is deceased, please call 213-765-1715 and leave a detailed message, including the name of the lawyer.
The State Bar cannot provide legal advice or represent you in any proceeding. However, our staff will check for any information reported to the State Bar concerning the lawyer or law practice. If no information is on file, we may be able to direct you to other resources.
Your file's status depends on the deceased lawyer's practice setup. It may be with their firm, the executor of their estate, or a practice administrator. Contact the deceased lawyer's office first. If unavailable, you may want to try reaching out to the building manager or landlord. They may be able to direct you to the person who is winding down the lawyer’s practice.
If you have a pending legal matter that was with your deceased lawyer, you will need to find out if your matter has been transferred to another attorney and if so, who. You may need to contact:
You should reach out to the contacts above as soon as possible. You or your new lawyer may need to contact the court where your matter is pending and the opposing lawyer or party to notify them of the death of your lawyer and seek a continuance of pending matters or deadlines.
Your matter may already have been transferred to another lawyer or firm. This happens when:
You may also be wondering if the work your lawyer did is still valid. You will need to consult with new counsel to answer your case-specific questions. The State Bar cannot provide legal advice or represent you in any proceeding.
You also have the option to hire a new lawyer. You can continue with another lawyer in the same firm or find new counsel. The State Bar’s Certified Lawyer Referral Services Directory may help you find a new lawyer.
Subject to the deadlines of any pending matter, we encourage you to consult with several lawyers before making your decision. The State Bar’s Need Legal Help webpages can help guide you.
In very limited situations, the State Bar may recover files from a deceased attorney's practice or assume a law practice. The State Bar makes every effort to notify clients with both open and closed matters to help them recover their files.
Notification letters are mailed to clients after due diligence to verify or determine client addresses. The client needs to return the accompanying authorization and copy of identification to arrange for the file's delivery to the client or successor counsel at no cost.
If you receive a notices from the State Bar, use the contact information provided in the letter to direct your questions. The State Bar team completing the proceeding would best be able to service your call.
If the attorney or the attorney’s estate failed to return money or property that belonged to you, the Client Security Fund may be able to help. Learn more here.
The State Bar does not routinely maintain records of wills or trusts. There are only certain circumstances in which we may have these records.
Here are tips for locating wills and trust documents:
If you cannot locate records through the county superior court or county recorder, you may contact the State Bar at AttorneyRegulation@calbar.ca.gov. Staff will review available files and records to determine if we have any information relevant to you.
The State Bar extends condolences to bereaved family members dealing with the loss of a loved one and the need to attend to their affairs. Please notify the State Bar by emailing AttorneyRegulation@calbar.ca.gov with the lawyer’s name and State Bar number.
If staff is unable to locate an online obituary, you may be contacted for additional information. When responding, please include either a photocopy of the death certificate or a link to a published obituary. There is no need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate.
If you are trying to handle legal documents: To facilitate the return of client files, please provide any additional information, such as the location of client files and the names of any lawyers who are taking over the deceased lawyer’s law practice or agreed to assist in closing the firm.