• What is A Probate Referee in California?

What is a Probate Referee in California?

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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By |2018-07-17T12:30:35-07:00November 2nd, 2015|Probate|10 Comments

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About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Ericka Gerrard September 18, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    How is it the probate referee can charge so much to do an appraisal on your house yet it cost $400 for a standard appraisal? The standard is a more true/real appraisal?

    Who sets the industry standard for this fee, the state?? If you have an expensive house you pay A LOT…

    • Sandy McCarthy September 18, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      Probate referee fees are set by California statute.

  2. Kara March 26, 2018 at 4:26 am

    I am filing an amended Inventory and Appraisal form for my adult disabled son whom I am the full conservator for. The only asset is a checking account with less than $2000,00in it. Is a probate referee required to evaluate it before I file?

    • Sandy McCarthy March 26, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      Ususally a probate referee does not value cash assets.

  3. rodrigo January 23, 2017 at 2:17 am

    If property is involved in a full authority PR does the listing price need to be the valuation set by the Referee?

    I heard that the sale has to be within 10% of the Referee valuation, is that true?

    • Sandy McCarthy January 23, 2017 at 5:11 am

      There are required steps the representative must take regarding a property sale. If you are looking for help with the paperwork, please call our office at 800-747-2780. If you are seeking legal advice, you should set up an appointment with a probate attorney.

  4. Andy August 31, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Are the results of the valuations available to the public?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 31, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      The inventory in a California probate is filed with the court. So, yes, theoretically anyone with the court case number could pull a copy of the filed document at the courthouse.

  5. Therese Correy March 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Why is a referee required when the estate consists of real property, stocks, cash and the executor is the only heir and there are no creditors? It seems like an unnecessary expense since the referee will get .01 per cent of the value of the estate but according to Los Angeles Superior Court local Probate rules it has to be filed. Or does it? Maybe the Court needs an outside monetary valuation of the estate for court records. Thank for your help.

    • Sandy McCarthy March 26, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      it is a statutory requirement in California. California Probate Code Sections 8900 through 8909 pertain to the probate referee process in California Probates. Cash is not included in the assets that are appraised by the probate referee. Section 8903 discusses the procedure for waving the appraisal by a probate referee for good cause. It requires a separate petition and a court hearing along with other accompanying documentation. I have never actually known of an application of this sort being approved, however.

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