Do All Estates Need Probate?

In California, a full probate is not necessary if someone dies with under $150,000 in assets. For example, say, Joe Client dies owning a bank account in his name worth $130,000 and no other assets. The beneficiaries (i.e., the ones getting Joe’s stuff under his will or intestacy if there is no will) complete what is called a “Small Estate Affidavit” and give it to the bank. Upon receiving the affidavit, the bank will release the funds to the beneficiaries.

For real property, there are also simplified procedures to transfer ownership to the beneficiaries if it, along with other assets in the estate, are worth under $150,000. This $150,000 figure is based on the gross value of the estate, NOT the net value. There is a simple procedure for transferring real property worth between $50,000 and $150,000 and there is a simpler procedure for real property worth less than $50,000. I’ll illustrate this with two examples.

Real Property worth between $50,000 and $150,000

Let’s say Joe Client owns a bank account worth $10,000 and a small home in the desert worth $120,000. Joe’s beneficiaries must file a “Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property” and go to a hearing in probate court before a judge. After the hearing is completed and the judge signs an order, the beneficiaries take the signed order and record it with the county recorder’s office to get title in their names.

Real Property worth less than $50,000

Same example as above, but instead of real property worth $120,000, Joe has a parcel of land in Salton Sea worth $5,000. Joe’s beneficiaries can do what is called an “Affidavit Re Real Property of Small Value” for the Salton Sea land. The affidavit is completed by the beneficiaries and given to a probate court clerk to stamp and return. No hearing is necessary. To seal the deal, the beneficiaries take the stamped affidavit and record it with the country recorder’s office to get title in their names.

These procedures are also used if someone has a trust and dies with an asset outside of the trust. The asset or assets outside of the trust can be put in the trust with these simplified procedures if the values are in the ranges explained.

If you have an estate worth more than $150,000, you need a trust to avoid probate! Or, if you have a trust, you need to make sure your stuff is in the trust! Get your trust done and make sure it’s working for you by giving me a call and scheduling an appointment – (805) 484-2769.

Stephen M. Wood, Attorney