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When Is Probate Required in California?

02/12/2024 | Blog
Senior man and woman meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss their estate plans 

Probate is a legal process for settling assets after a person dies. “Assets” include homes, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other personal property.

The issue is that probate can be a complex – and lengthy – procedure to go through. But is probate always required, and is it possible to avoid probate? Let’s consider this question below.

Is Probate Necessary in California?

Probate proceedings are not automatically required in California. For example, it may be possible for very small estates to avoid probate. You might also avoid probate by placing estate assets into living trusts or setting up joint ownership.

However, probate may be required in California in the following circumstances.

1. Intestate Estate

If the person dies without a will, they die “intestate”. The estate should be divided according to California’s intestate succession laws. To fairly distribute the assets, the court will appoint a personal representative. This usually means going through probate.

2. Real Property

Real estate, such as homes and businesses, normally require probate. It does not matter if there’s a will. There are exceptions; for example, if a surviving spouse has joint ownership rights over a house. Such assets do not require probate.

3. Assets Worth More Than $184,500

If the decedent’s assets are worth $184,500 or more in total, then it doesn’t matter what those assets are. The estate must go through probate before any assets can be distributed. . ($184,500 is the 2024 amount)

4. Minor Heirs

The courts must appoint a guardian to represent any heirs under the age of 18. As such, estates with young heirs usually always involve a degree of formal court procedure.

5. Debts Over the Estate

Some debts, such as unpaid tax debt, must go through probate. These debts must be paid before assets can be divided among surviving heirs.

6. Contested Wills

Having a will does not mean you will avoid probate. For example, if anyone challenges a will’s validity, then probate settles the matter.

If you’re concerned about probate or how the process works, our estate planning attorneys are happy to assist.

When Is a Probate Referee Required in California?

Probate referees value an estate’s “non-cash” assets such as real estate. They work closely with an estate’s executor to gather information and perform appraisals. This means that probate referees are usually always involved in the California probate process.

Does Probate Court Require Court Appearances in California?

Some court formalities are, normally, required for CA probate.

  • Once the “petitioner” starts the probate process, the court sets a hearing date. Anyone who may be entitled to a share of the estate can attend this hearing, even if they’re not named in a will.
  • The court will then appoint a personal representative to administer the estate. If there’s a will, the executor will become the personal representative.
  • Following the valuation, the court will review how the executor handled the estate. This will ensure everything is legally correct.
  • The court formally discharges the executor from their duties after everyone receives what they are due.

Probate court procedures can seem intimidating, but our team can support you and explain what to expect.

Estate Planning Attorneys in Woodland Hills, CA

The probate process is inherently complex. If you’re unsure whether probate is required, or how to start a probate case, our team can help.

Our CA probate attorneys will clearly outline the process and answer any questions you have. We will ensure you feel fully informed – and empowered to make the right decisions for your family.

To learn more about probate, or to discuss an estate planning matter, contact us today.