Is Simplified Probate an Option for Small Estates?

What is probate?

If you pass away without a Living Trust, your estate will go through a legal process known as probate. In general, this process involves a few main steps, including:

  1. Proving the validity of your will;

  2. Identifying and creating an inventory of your property and assets (also known as your estate);

  3. Appraising the value of your property(ies)

  4. Paying off all debts and taxes owed to creditors, and;

  5. Distributing your property in accordance with your will to your heirs or designated beneficiaries. If no will exists, then distribution will be determined by the probate laws in your state.

Probate will typically involve a significant amount of paperwork and potential court appearance, which is why it is recommended to seek the help of an experienced probate attorney.

The probate process can become costly and time-consuming, depending on the circumstances involved with the estate and family members.

Shortcuts around the probate process

Depending on the size of the estate and the estate planning methods you used, the probate process could stretch on for months or even years. However, there are some shortcuts available that can potentially speed up the process significantly.

One possibility is if you have what’s called a “small estate.” A small estate is defined as an estate with assets valued at $150,000 or less. Because property values in California are so high, many estates that contain properties would not be considered small estates.

The other possibility is if you have a surviving spouse. It is common for married couples to own property under joint tenancy or community property with an ownership option called right of survivorship.

Both routes are worth exploring if your estate qualifies for the state’s simplified probate procedures. Let’s take a closer look at your options if either of these scenarios affects your estate.


What is simplified probate in California?

California law allows for a simplified probate process that small estates can benefit from. This is sometimes also called a summary probate. The point is to allow the estate’s beneficiaries to distribute or receive your assets without having to go through hearings and filing the usual probate petition.

The person who handles your estate affairs in probate court is called the administrator. If you have a will, the administrator is called your executor. This is because you are asked to name someone in your will who must “execute” your wishes if you pass away. An administrator and an executor both have the same duties.

It is then up to the court whether or not it will authorize that person to distribute assets without going through the standard probate processes.

How to start the simplified probate process

To be able to use this procedure, the administrator or executor of your estate must submit an affidavit or petition to the probate court in the county in which you lived, or in which the property is located. This must be started after a 40-day waiting period.

The affidavit or petition for summary probate that is submitted should include the following information:

  • County in which the deceased lived (or the county in which the property is located);

  • A description of the property the beneficiary seeks;

  • The estimated value of the estate as a whole, and;

  • Some general information about the beneficiary, including name, age, address and relationship to the deceased.

When calculating the value of the estate, there are some items that can be excluded, which might help you get under that $150,000 limit. These excluded properties include:

  • Real estate located outside California;

  • Property held in joint tenancy or that passes to a surviving spouse;

  • Death benefits, life insurance policies, multiple-party accounts, or payable-on-death accounts;

  • Registered motor vehicles or numbered vessels;

  • Salary up to $15,000 or money paid for service in the armed forces, and;

  • Any property held in trust and any other assets not subject to probate that pass to named beneficiaries.

The beneficiary filing for simplified probate must include a copy of the well and the written consent as provided by the estate executor.

Probate options for surviving spouses

It is important to note again that a surviving spouse will be able to claim all property without it having to pass through the probate process. Any assets inherited by the surviving spouse or a

registered domestic partner can be legally transferred with a Spousal Property Petition. The surviving spouse submits this petition to the probate court for approval, and the approval process should happen quickly. There are no limitations to the amount of property that can be transferred using this process.

See if simplified probate is an option for your family

Simplified probate procedures in California could save your family time, money, and emotional distress during a time when you may still be coping with the loss of a loved one.

We encourage you to contact our team of trusted probate attorneys for a free probate consultation to review your situation. Call (626) 307-2800 or complete the form below.


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