Am I Required to Go Through the Probate Process?

In California, there are some ways to avoid probate or to make the process a little simpler for surviving spouses and for “small estates.” These shortcuts can help you save time and money – here are a couple examples.

If you are inheriting assets from your spouse or domestic partner, those assets can be transferred through a simplified procedure known as a Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition. You will need to submit this petition to the probate court, which must approve it before the property can be transferred. However, this process is vastly more streamlined than the typical probate process, and there is no limit to the amount of assets that you can transfer through this kind of petition.

You may also skip the probate process entirely if the total value of all the assets left behind is below a certain threshold. If:

  1. The value of the estate is no more than $150,000, or
  2. The estate contains real estate up to $50,000 in value

You can prepare an out-of-court affidavit that states you are entitled to a certain asset. Upon receipt of the affidavit and death certificate by the institution or person holding the property, the asset will be released to you.

For small estates, there is also a simplified probate process you can utilize for property transfer. This process is available if the estate has a value up to $150,000, not including real estate outside California; joint tenancy property; property that goes outright to a surviving spouse; life insurance, death benefits, and other assets not subject to probate that pass to named beneficiaries; multiple-party accounts and payable-on-death accounts; any registered manufactured or mobile home; any numbered vessel; registered motor vehicles; salary up to $15,000; amounts for services in the armed forces or property held in a trust.