Simplified Probate in California

Small Estate Threshhold Has Increased Effective January 1, 2020

Small California estates with assets worth $166,250 or less may be settled without formal probate proceedings, using relatively simple transfer procedures. This summary form of probate (Summary Probate) is available regardless of whether the assets are real property or personal property as long as the following are true:

  • No administration proceedings are pending or have been conducted for the decedent’s estate or, if they have, the personal representative has consented in writing to the summary probate procedure.
  • The gross value of all real and personal property owed by the decedent in California on the date of death is no more than $166,250. (This figure is the value of the property, not counting any money owed on the property.)

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If the estate qualifies, anyone entitled to inherit property from the decedent, whether as a beneficiary under the will or an heir under intestate succession laws, may settle the estate and obtain title or possession of the property with these simplified probate transfer procedures. In most cases, the procedure can be completed shortly after the initial 40-day waiting period.

There are three separate California summary probate procedures for small estates:

Transferring personal property by Affidavit: to receive property by this streamlined procedure, the person entitled to the property must present an affidavit to the person, representative corporation or institution having custody or control of the property, or acting as a registrar or transfer agent of the property, requesting that the property be delivered or transferred to them. If there are several assets to be transferred, they may all be included in one affidavit, or a separate affidavit may be used for each. When using this affidavit procedure to collect or transfer personal property, the following rules apply:

  1. At least 40 days must have elapsed since the death of the decedent before the affidavit or declaration is presented to the  holder of the property.
  2. No administration proceedings may be pending or have been conducted for the decedent’s estate.
If the estate contains real property not exceeding $55,425 in value then title to the property can be obtained by the successors of the decedent by filing an Affidavit re: Real Property of Small Value with the Superior Court of the county in which the property is located and then recording a certified copy with the county recorder. Some special requirements apply to this procedure:

  1. The affidavit may not be filed until six months after the decedent’s death. No probate proceedings may be pending or have been conducted in California for the estate.
  2. Funeral expenses, last illness expenses and all unsecured debts of the decedent must have been paid before the affidavit is filed.
If the decedent owned property in California not exceeding $166,250 in value, the heirs or beneficiaries may file a simplified procedure with the Superior Court asking for an order to determine their right to take the property without probate administration. The petition is called a Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property. It is primarily used for real property, but also includes a request to determine the successor of certain personal property as well. If there is only personal property in the estate, the affidavit discussed above under “Personal Property” should be sufficient. When using this Petition procedure to collect or transfer real property under $166,250 in value, the following rules apply:
    1. At least 40 days must have elapsed since the death of the decedent before the affidavit or declaration is presented to the holder of the property.
    2. No administration proceedings may be pending or have been conducted or the decedent’s estate.
    3. The gross value of the real and personal property in the estate does not exceed $166,250 (excluding the allowed exceptions).

This abbreviated proceeding can be used to transfer title to real property under $166,250 more quickly than is allowed under the affidavit procedure, which has a six-month waiting period.

All property to which a surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to receive outright from a deceased spouse or partner may be “set aside” to the survivor without formal probate. There is no limitation on the amount or value of the assets to be transferred and includes community property, separate property and quasi-community property (property acquired by married or registered couples outside California that would have been community property if acquired in California). To qualify as a “surviving spouse,” the survivor must have been legally married to the decedent at the time of death. To qualify as a “surviving registered domestic partner,” you must have registered your partnership with the decedent through the California Secretary of State by filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership Form DP-1.

A Spousal Property Petition would be appropriate for the following types of property:

    1. Real property held in the names of the spouses in joint tenancy or where the deed does not indicate the manner in which title is held,
    2. Real property held in the name of the decedent alone or with a third party,
    3. Securities, stocks and bonds in the names of the spouses as “community property” or “tenants in common” or in the name of the decedent alone,
    4. Trust deed notes or promissory notes payable to decedent alone or decedent and surviving spouse,
    5. Motor vehicles in name of decedent alone or in name of decedent and surviving spouse but not joined by “or”
    6. Bank accounts in the name of the decedent alone or decedent and surviving spouse.

The Spousal Property Petition is filed in the county in which the estate of the deceased spouse is to be administered.

When Simplified Probate Procedures Don’t Apply

Unfortunately, the above Simplified Probate procedures may not be available for some estates. When a person has died and has not made necessary pre-death arrangements to avoid probate, and when the estate does not qualify under one of the Simplified Probate procedures offered under California law, the only option may be to file a full, formal probate proceeding. For more information on filing a complete Probate proceeding click here.

Filing Your Simplified Probate Proceeding Using our Self-help Services: In view of the voluminous paperwork required by the court, preparing all of the necessary probate documentation can be extremely overwhelming for the average lay person. For routine proceedings, this process can easily be facilitated with our full service document preparation and processing.

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Estate Administration Services Price
Trust Administration (1 real property)
each additional property +$200
Probate Transfer by Affidavit (non-court, for estates with personal property only. This process cannot be used for estates with real property. Property must be valued under $166,250/$184,500) $225
Simplified Probate Proceeding to Transfer Real Property Not Exceeding $55,425/61,000 (up to 2 Petitioners; 1 real property) $649*
Simplified Probate Proceeding to Transfer Real Property Not Exceeding $166,425 (up to 2 Petitioners; 1 real property) $799*
Spousal Property Petition (1 real property) $749*
Heggstad Petition (1 Petitioner, 1 real property) $1500**
No frills Probate Petition Documents Only for California Probate with Order of Probate and Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary (document prep only with instructions. No court filing or additional support services.) $750**
Phase 1 California Probate Petition (Full Service with court filing assistance, arranging publication, notices and case management) up to Order of Probate and Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary $1500**
Most Popular Full service, complete California Probate, facilitation of court filings, arranging publication, administrative notices, and ongoing case management services $3900**
Probate Phase 2 or Phase 3 Full Service $1500.00+/phase
Report of Sale and Petition for Order Confirming Sale Real Property (for matters with limited authority) $1500.00 +costs
Notice of Proposed Action (up to 5 notices) $250
Supplements to Petitions $250 min. and up
Other Probate Services Call for quote

*In these alternative small estate probate proceedings, if estate has more than 1 real property or 2 Co-Petitioners, additional fees will based on the following: +$75/each Petitioner over 2; +$150/each additional real property over 1.

**In full probate proceedings, the following additional fees will apply, if applicable: +$250/each additional real property over 1; +$250/co-Petitioner; +$100/each beneficiary over 5. Fee covers all standard documents for routine proceeding but does not cover specialty services that may be required in some proceedings. Fees are based on all heirs waiving bond, waiver of accounting by all beneficiaries, and all creditors paid in full prior to filing Petition for Final distribution. Phase 3 Petition for Final Distribution may have add-on fees based on extraordinary actions or requests by the administrator prior to distribution. Annual surcharge fee of $500 will be assessed for each year or partial year the case remains open after 12 months.