Fire Victim Trust

Frequently Asked Questions


Deceased, Minor, and Incapacitated Claimants


48. How do I add a Representative Claimant for a Fire Victim who is a minor or has become deceased or incapacitated?

You must identify a Legal Representative for all Claimants who are currently a minor, an incapacitated adult, or deceased. You can add a Representative Claimant through the Claimant Details Screen on your Portal. Click the Edit Claimant Details button, then select the appropriate Individual Claimant Type from the dropdown menu. The option to Add Representative will become available, as will date of death, when appropriate.


49. Who is considered a Minor Claimant?

Minor Claimant means an individual Fire Victim who is under 18 years of age and has not been emancipated by a court declaration of emancipation. We consider the Claimant’s age at the date of signing of each document (i.e., the Claims Questionnaire or Release) or at the time of payment, not on the date of the Fire or related damage or injury. This means that if a Minor Claimant reaches the age of majority (turns 18) during the pendency of their claim, the parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem is no longer their Legal Representative. Instead, the Claimant will act on his or her own behalf from that time forward.


50. Who may act as Legal Representative for a Minor Claimant, and what documents must they submit to the Trust to support their authority?

A parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem of a minor child may act as Legal Representative for a Minor Claimant. The type of document required to support a party’s authority to act as Legal Representative to a Minor Claimant—including accepting any offer, signing Releases, and receiving payment—depends on the party’s relation to the Claimant, but can include the following:


(a) Birth Certificate or Baptismal Certificate. A birth certificate or baptismal certificate identifying the Legal Representative as parent of the Minor Claimant.


(b) Custody or Adoption Records. A copy of an adoption or custody order or similar custody records identifying the Legal Representative as parent or legal custodian of the Minor Claimant.


(c) Local Court Appointment. A copy of a court order, letters of guardianship, letters of conservatorship, certification, or other document issued by a court or other appropriate official and appointing the Legal Representative as guardian, conservator, curator, personal representative, or other position with authority to act on behalf of the Minor Claimant.


(d) Legal Representative Declaration. A completed copy of Legal Representative Declaration (available here) supporting their authority to act on behalf of a Minor Claimant.


(e) Additional Legal Representative Proof Documents. Additional documents may be accepted as Legal Representative Proof Documents only if the Special Master approves or as authorized by the District Court.


51. When is a Guardian ad litem required?

If a Minor Claimant or Incapacitated Claimant is not represented by counsel, a guardian ad litem must be appointed to act on the Claimant’s behalf. Click here to access the fillable PDF guardian ad litem form.


52. Who may act as Legal Representative for a deceased/estate Claimant, and what documents must they submit to the Trust to support their authority?

An executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate or, if none has been appointed, the decedent’s successor-in-interest may act as Legal Representative for a deceased/estate Claimant. The type of document required to support a party’s authority to act as Legal Representative to a deceased/estate Claimant—including accepting any offer, signing Releases, and receiving payment —depends on the party’s relation to the Claimant, but can include the following:


(a) Local Court Appointment. Documents supporting that the Legal Representative has been ordered by a local court to act as the representative of a deceased Claimant. For example, a copy of a court order, letters of administration, letters testamentary, or other document issued by a court or other appropriate official and appointing the Legal Representative as personal representative, administrator, executor, or other position with authority to act on behalf of the deceased Claimant.


(b) Successor in Interest Declaration. A deceased Claimant’s successor in interest(s) may submit a declaration or affidavit to support the Legal Representative’s authority if no probate administration is pending or required. The affidavit must meet the requirements of Cal. Prob. Code § 377.32, including being accompanied by a copy of the decedent’s death certificate. The heir(s) also must submit documents supporting their relationship to the decedent.


(c) Small Estate Affidavit. A deceased Claimant’s legal heir(s) or other successors in interest may submit a small estate affidavit to support a Legal Representative’s authority if: (1) more than forty days have elapsed since the decedent’s death; (2) the decedent’s estate, including any awards from the Trust, does not exceed $166,250; and (3) and no probate administration is pending or required. The affidavit must meet the requirements of Cal. Prob. Code § 13101, including being accompanied by a copy of the decedent’s death certificate. The heir(s) also must submit documents supporting their relationship to the decedent.


(d) Last Will and Testament. A copy of a deceased Claimant’s properly executed will identifying the Legal Representative as the executor of the deceased Claimant’s estate. The will must be accompanied by a copy of a deceased Claimant’s death certificate.


(e) Additional Legal Representative Proof Documents. Additional documents may be accepted as Legal Representative Proof Documents only if the Special Master approves or as authorized by the District Court.


53. Who is considered an Incapacitated Claimant?

An Incapacitated Claimant is a person who lacks the capacity to make a decision unless the person has the ability to communicate verbally, or by any other means, the decision, and to understand and appreciate, to the extent relevant, all of the following: (a) the rights, duties, and responsibilities created by, or affected by the decision; (b) the probable consequences for the decisionmaker, and, where appropriate, the persons affected by the decision; and (c) the significant risks, benefits, and reasonable alternatives involved in the decision.

We presume all adult Claimants have legal capacity to act on their own behalf unless presented with information or documents clearly indicating the Claimant meets the criteria. The mere fact that a Claimant has executed a power of attorney agreement, including a durable or springing power of attorney, does not mean that a Claimant is incapacitated.


54. Who may act as Legal Representative for an Incapacitated Claimant, and what documents must they submit to the Trust to support their authority?

A guardian or conservator or, if none has been appointed, an agent authorized in a durable or springing power of attorney agreement may act as a Legal Representative for an Incapacitated Claimant. The type of document required to support a party’s authority to act as Legal Representative to an Incapacitated Claimant—including accepting any offer, signing Releases, and receiving payment—depends on the party’s relation to the Claimant, but can include the following:


(a) Local Court Appointment. A copy of a court order, letters of guardianship, letters of conservatorship, certification, or other document issued by a court or other appropriate official and appointing the Legal Representative as guardian, conservator, curator, personal representative, or other position with authority to act on behalf of the Incapacitated Claimant.


(b) Durable Power of Attorney. A durable or springing power of attorney submitted by a Legal Representative acting on behalf of an Incapacitated Claimant.


(c) Legal Representative Declaration. A completed copy of Legal Representative Declaration (available here) supporting their authority to act on behalf of an Incapacitated Claimant.


(d) Additional Legal Representative Proof Documents. Additional documents may be accepted as Legal Representative Proof Documents only if the Special Master approves or as authorized by the District Court.


55. What additional considerations apply for payment to Minor and Incapacitated Fire Victims?

To protect their interests, the Special Master must review and approve the Claims Determinations and disbursement measures for all awards to Minors and Incapacitated Claimants before the Trust may issue payment. As part of this process, the Special Master will review the Determination Notice and claim awards after acceptance, as well as documentation supporting the Legal Representative’s authority to act on the minor’s or incapacitated adult’s behalf.


56. Whose awards must be reviewed and approved by the Special Master before payment?

All current Minor and Incapacitated Claimats’ awards must be reviewed and approved by the Special Master before payment.


57. How does the Special Master review process work?

The following is a general overview of the steps in the Special Master review process:


(a) The Claimant’s Legal Representative will accept the Approved Claim Amount provided in the Determination or Reconsideration Notice on the Claimant’s behalf.


(b) The Claimant’s Legal Representative will submit a petition to the Special Master that includes proposed Orders and relevant supplemental materials. Pro se Claimants will need to also submit a guardian ad litem application.


(c) For Claimants represented by an attorney, the Special Master will require a hearing via Zoom for all awards over $50,000.00; the Special Master can review awards under $50,000.00 on the papers but may require a hearing at her discretion. For pro se Claimants, the Special Master will always require a hearing, even when the award is less than $50,000.00.


(d) The Special Master will issue an Order that the award be deposited in an appropriate account, and that Order will be uploaded to the Claimant’s Portal documents. The Fire Victim Trust will send an email alert that the Order has been uploaded. Special Master Orders must then be filed, under seal, in the United Stated District Court for the Northern District of California.


(e) Payment will issue in the next payment distribution following entry of the Order. 


(f) The Minor or Incapacitated Claimant’s Legal Representative must deposit the award as ordered and upload an Acknowledgment of Deposit to the Claimant’s Portal documents.


58. How are Special Master Orders filed with the Court?

By Order of Hon. Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., the Special Master Order(s) must be e-filed by Claimants’ counsel on the docket for case no. 20-cv-07967- HSG in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. All Special Master Orders must be e-filed within 30 days, including the Order Approving Compromise, any Deposit Orders, any future Supplemental Orders, and any other Orders entered by the Special Master. Neither the Special Master nor the Fire Victim Trust is responsible for filing the Order(s) on the District Court docket. These Orders must be filed under seal.


Detailed instructions for e-filing under seal are available on the United States District Court, Northern District of California website, here. Judge Gilliam’s Standing Order, which discusses Motions to Seal beginning at paragraph 28, is also available on the United States District Court, Northern District of California website, here. If you have not already done so, you may add your firm as a filing Party to docket your clients’ Special Master Orders.


The Fire Victim Trust will e-file the Special Master Orders for pro se Claimants only.


59. Does the Special Master review process require new petitions and Orders for every pro rata distribution?

No, the Special Master will review each Minor and Incapacitated Claimant’s petition once and will issue Orders based on the Approved Claim Amount as described in the accepted Determination or Reconsideration Notice. If a bank or other depository requires an Order with the exact amount of each pro rata deposit, the Special Master can issue Supplemental Orders upon request. 


60. Where can I find more information about the Special Master review process?

There is a tile on the home page of the Portal titled “Minors and Incapacitated Adults,” which contains guidance documents and forms relevant to the Special Master review process. These documents and forms are occasionally updated, and the Special Master may require older versions of petitions or forms to be resubmitted using the updated version. 


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