Probate used to be the only way to transfer assets after a person died.  The probate process is a formal court proceeding and can be expensive and time-consuming. In this regard, California law provides for alternatives to formal probate that are easier and less expensive.  It is often possible to avoid probate. So, with this information, when is probate necessary in California? Unfortunately, even though there are measures that a person can take to avoid probate, there will still be times when probate is needed.

What our Clients Say...
“I used A People’s Choice to prepare and file documents to probate my sister’s estate.  I began the probate process in pro per and hired them after discovering the difficulty in processing the probate by myself.  Very knowledgeable with good technology to keep me informed.  Their fees were significantly less than what I would have had to pay for an attorney, yet their services were excellent. I can’s see where an attorney would have been any better (or as good). Highly recommend this service.”
Ron C.
“Can’t say enough about the level of service and professionalism I received working with A People’s Choice. Emails were always responded to quickly and thoughtfully. They really care about the process and helping you get the best result with no up-selling. Of course, they can’t provide legal advice, but I was referred to an attorney when I needed some questions answered who was very reasonable and easy to get a hold of as well. The process played out according to plan, and I ended up saving a lot of money by going with A People’s Choice over an attorney.”
M. Rice
“I am writing to give A People’s Choice my utmost recommendation. Living in New England, I found them on the web. After speaking with a staff member on the phone I had the confidence to give them my business. A People’s Choice handled my probate case with great professionalism and knowledge. My case turned out to be more complicated than originally believed, and the staff walked me through each step. They always responded promptly to my email questions. In the end, their service was exactly what I hoped for; they saved me thousands of dollars and allowed me to do it from across the country. They were truly a pleasure to work with.”
K. Levenson
“A People Choice provided excellent support with the appropriate legal documents and filing process in a spousal property petition after my husband passed. Lawyers wanted to charge me a fortune. However, once I spoke with someone at A People’s Choice, they took on my case and guided me through every step. A People’s Choice has years of experience, which gave me a sense of trust and confidence. I always got immediate feedback from every email request. If you need probate help, I would highly recommend A People’s Choice.”
Sylvia A
“I had a great experience with my California probate case using A People’s Choice! The people that assisted me were so helpful.  I certainly could not have done this probate by myself.  The best part was that I was able to save over $10,000 in lawyer fees!  All my emails were always returned so quickly. Needless to say, I am a very satisfied customer.  I would highly recommend A People’s Choice to all my friends and family!”
Joi C
“When my mother-in-law passed away last year, we didn’t know what to do. We contacted A People’s Choice and from day one they were very helpful. They held our hand every step of the way, and if I had a question any time of the day or night someone got back to me within a few hours. I highly recommend A People’s Choice if you don’t know what to do and don’t want to pay the high price of a lawyer, especially if you don’t have much money.”
Mikki C
“A People’s Choice helped us throughout our entire year-long probate making the process very easy and manageable while at the same time saving us thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees. Not only were they extremely friendly and fast to respond to our questions but they made the process simple enough that we hardly ever had to contact the courthouse directly and we even had a hearing done without an appearance. Would highly recommend A People’s Choice to anyone!”
A. Vuckovich
“I must say that A People’s Choice is a very responsible and effective company. The staff there is very nice and replied to all my questions by email quickly. With their help, I accomplished the probate in 8 months successfully and saved at least $10,000.00 in attorney fees, so I strongly recommend everybody to contract with A People’s Choice and let them help you with your legal documents. You will be very satisfied with their work as I did!!!!”
C. Chiu
“Thanks to A People’s Choice, I was able to get through a probate matter very smoothly. I had not one issue with the Courts. They guided me through the whole probate until the very end. I live up north, but that didn’t matter, A People’s Choice did an excellent job keeping me informed with everything that I needed to do. I saved THOUSANDS of dollars by going with A People’s Choice. You can’t go wrong, no matter what your needs are. I saved a lot of money by not having to pay out a percentage to an attorney. Many thanks to the staff at A People’s Choice for the great help they give to everyone in their times of need like I was! Thank You.”
R. Leonard
“When my father passed away without a will, we needed help handling the transfer of his assets. Since there weren’t significant assets, I didn’t want to spend too much on the legal paperwork. A People’s Choice offered just the right service we needed. In particular, the staff was very responsive to our document filing needs, helping to turn around corrections almost immediately. They helped to ease a tough situation.”
Michael C.
“I used A People’s Choice for help with a probate matter. My grandfather died Christmas of 2016. He had a living trust, but no one was able to find it. We went to A People’s Choice, and we were able to do a probate affidavit to get what was left of my grandfather’s estate. Took two days for the documents to be prepared and the bank accepted them without any questions. Sandy was the one who assisted us, and we really appreciate the help that was provided. A+ service.”
David R.
“A People’s Choice worked on my probate case for over 1 year. Their knowledge, dedication, and commitment to clients are exceptional, preparing the required legal documents, and all the court filings. They used the e-filing system which really expedited the process. They always answered my emails in a very timely manner and were professional. The probate process is long and sometimes seems overwhelming. It’s also very expensive, A People’s Choice saved me thousands of dollars as compared to an attorney. I would highly recommend A People’s Choice for your probate needs. It’s cost effective, and they handle the entire process from beginning to end!”
C.K..
“Probate itself is a frustrating and expensive process. A People’s Choice was professional and courteous throughout a long probate process. Everyone I came in contact with at A People’s Choice was exceptionally helpful, patient, and professional. For those entering into the probate process, I must warn you that it is difficult to understand. The staff at A People’s Choice makes it as tolerable you could wish for.  The people who work there were kind, efficient, and understanding.  If you email your questions, they’ll get back to you and won’t make you feel like you are ignorant if you are unclear about any part of the process.”
Marcel B
“I needed help understanding and filling out legal documents, but I didn’t have enough money to pay for an attorney. After searching the internet, I found A People’s Choice. I was relieved to know that I would get the exact service that I needed at an affordable price. The staff was very professional and helpful with my legal documents. They worked around my schedule and responded to my emails in a timely manner. They took care of all the paperwork and filing and kept me posted. I would highly recommend A People’s Choice for your legal documents as you will get outstanding service at an affordable price.
Sharon B.
“After not having my call returned from a probate lawyer, I looked into doing a Spousal Property Petition myself.  A People’s Choice assisted me through the whole probate process and everything went smoothly.  When I appeared in court, I didn’t have to say a word. The judge just said, “granted.”  Using A People’s Choice I saved thousands of dollars, and I’m so glad that probate attorney didn’t return my call.  I highly recommend A People’s Choice.”
Donna G.
“A People’s Choice walked me through the entire probate process. This company is very professional and helpful and made a scary probate pretty much stress free. I would send an email with a question I had thought of over the weekend with the expectation I would get an answer on Monday but lo and behold, I often got an answer within minutes! Thank you to the staff for your guidance and patience to talk me through such a difficult time. You made the process very smooth! Probably saved us about $10,000! We are very pleased and will be referring our friends/family to A People’s Choice!”
L. Garrett.
“I had hoped to have my probate process taken care of by myself to save money. After the fourth attempt to file at the Clerk’s office, I left in tears and faced the reality of hiring an attorney. I look on the internet to find one and came across A People’s Choice. They offered a price that was way below what attorneys charge! They guided me through every step of the process and wrote up all the paperwork so that all I had to do was sign. It was really an amazing experience. They are a pleasure to work with.”
D. Chase.
“Thank you so much for all your help through this California probate process.  By using your company instead of a California probate lawyer, we were able to cut our expenses dramatically.  Thank you for answering my many questions and for giving me a heads up on documents that could be prepared in advance in order to save time and money.  There was always someone available to help! Thank you again.”
Craig K.

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When is Probate Necessary in California?

For this article, we refer to probate as the 8-10 month court process that settles a decedent’s estate. We are not referring to alternative simplified proceedings that we will discuss later in this article.

With this in mind, the first step to determine when probate is necessary is to figure out which assets are part of the estate.  Assets that are part of the estate, must be transferred through probate.  Assets that are part of the estate include:

  1. Assets titled solely in the name of the decedent. These assets may consist of real estate, bank accounts, valuable collectibles, and personal property.  Most states, including California, have exceptions for vehicles.  Another exception is accounts with a Payable on Death beneficiary or property with a Transfer on Death Deed.  You should not count assets held in a revocable living trust as part of the estate.
  2. Property that the decedent owned as a tenant-in-common. There is an exception for a Transfer on Death Deed.  However, property that is a joint tenancy with right of survivorship will not be part of the estate.
  3. Accounts with named beneficiaries, such as a retirement plan or life insurance. These accounts are usually not part of the estate. An exception to this would be if all the designated beneficiaries predeceased the decedent. In that situation, the account becomes part of the estate.

How to Determine Value of Estate

Once the estate representative figures out which assets are part of the estate, he/she must determine the total value of the estate.  The value of the estate determines when probate is necessary in California and if an alternative process is an option. First, calculate the total gross value of the estate assets. Does the estate include real property? Next, eliminate all the exceptions discussed above. If, after eliminating all exceptions, the gross estate is valued more than $150,000 (and includes real property), then you must file probate. We urge you to watch this informative video which will help you understand the various options to settle an estate in California.

If the total value of all the California assets in the estate is under $150,000, then most likely you can settle the estate by a simplified procedure.  It is important to understand that beneficiaries can use a simplified procedure if there is a will or there is no will. To officially value the assets, California requires an appraisal from a probate referee. This valuation is part of the simplified procedure. If, however, the referee determines the value of the assets in the estate exceeds this threshold, then probate will be necessary whether the decedent had a will or not.

When to Choose Probate vs Simplified Procedures

Even if the value of the assets in the estate qualifies the estate for a simplified procedure, there are situations when probate would be preferable over a simplified procedure.  If the decedent’s will is flawed, you may need court intervention to decide the terms or validity of the will.  If there are disputes among the heirs, it may be necessary to resolve the differences through a court process.  If the decedent has a large amount of debt or the estate is insolvent, then probate may be necessary to determine which creditors have priority for payment.  Lastly, some companies may refuse to transfer assets in some accounts unless the estate goes through a complete probate.

If you need to settle an estate, whether it be filing probate or a simplified proceeding, contact A People’s Choice. We have helped thousands of families settle a decedent’s estate. Our probate services are inexpensive and a great way to save thousands of dollars as compared to hiring an attorney. Reach out to speak with our experienced staff at 800-747-2780.

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