Practically all California probated estates are required to be examined by a probate referee in California. In particular, the probate referee is tasked with appraising and evaluating the non-cash assets of an estate. Most probate referees are used to settle the value of estates. So what is a probate referee in California and when do you need one? This article will explain why some estates need a probate referee, why some don’t, and explain how to locate and appoint a California probate referee in a probate proceeding.

Probate Referee Definition

The California State Controller’s Office appoints probate referees. Probate referees appraise the non-monetary assets listed in the inventory of the decedent’s estate. In addition, probate referees may be asked to appraise the value of property not included in the probate process such as assets held in a living trust. Referees must satisfy the educational and work experience requirements as defined by the Controller’s Office. Probate referee candidates must pass a written exam and meet at least one of the following work experience requirements:

  1. California licensed attorney
  2. Certified Public Accountant
  3. Several years of experience in appraisal and property valuation

Probate Referee Function and Purpose

The function and purpose of the probate referee is to appraise the property of an estate in which some type of probate is necessary. The referee will receive information regarding the assets and debts of the decedent’s estate from the executor, administrator, or trustee. This information is identified and presented to the probate referee on an official form which the probate referee will complete and sign. Probate referees typically appraise and evaluate the following items:

  1. Real estate
  2. Valuable collectibles
  3. Business related property
  4. Stocks and bonds
  5. Household furniture
  6. Automobiles

Probate referees are required to appraise all non-cash assets of an estate. When the appraisal is completed, the probate referee is required to sign a statement attesting to the value listed for the non-monetary assets which are to be determined honestly, impartially, and to the best of the referee’s ability. This document known as Inventory and Appraisal Form DE-160, is filed with the probate court.

California Probate Referee Fees

California probate referee fees are based on 1/10th of 1% (.001) of the total assets that are appraised. In addition, the probate referee can charge for expenses such as mileage, mapping, and photos. Probate referees receive a minimum fee of $75 and maximum fee of $10,000,000. Referee fees are paid by the estate. Many probate referees will not release the completed Inventory and Appraisal form to the estate representative until they have been paid for their services.

How to Locate A California Probate Referee

A probate referee can be located by visiting the Controller’s website. The website includes a directory of referees by county. You can also visit the California Probate Referees Association to find a California probate referee.

Do All Estates Need A Probate Referee ?

Under most circumstances, a probate referee is required when an estate is settled through a California probate proceeding. However, there are a few instances when a probate referee is not needed to settle an estate. They are:

  1. Settling a small estate through a non-court Affidavit under California Probate Code Section 13100
  2. Filing a Spousal Property Petition
  3. Estates requiring court probate but only consist of cash assets

Although rare, a court may waive the requirement of using a probate referee if there is a showing of good cause. In order to obtain a waiver for good cause, you must attend a hearing and file several documents with the probate court. Most judges are hesitant in granting such waivers.

How to Request Appointment of Probate Referee

The process of having a probate referee appointed varies from county to county. Many counties automatically designate the appointed probate referee at item 6 of the Order for Probate. In other counties, however, a separate form must be filed with the court to request the appointment of a probate referee if one was not appointed in the Order for Probate. For example, in Ventura County, Form VN084 may be completed to request an order appointing a probate referee. Los Angeles County requires Local Form PRO-001 and San Mateo County uses their Local Form PR-5. It is important to check the local forms and rules in the county where the probate proceeding is being filed. This will avoid unnecessary delay in the process of a probate referee being appointed.

In probate proceedings where the Inventory and Appraisal must be completed before filing the application or petition, the petitioner must select the probate referee. The petitioning party may select any currently appointed probate referee in the county where the decedent’s property is situated to perform the inventory and appraisal.  Contact A People’s Choice for more information on how to request appointment of a probate referee in California.


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