How Much Does an Estate Have to Be Worth to Go to Probate in California?

The death of a family member is a difficult challenge, from the intense emotions to the legal complexities. Dealing with legal processes after the death of a loved one, particularly probate, can be long, stressful, and emotionally draining. However, with a trusted Carlsbad estate planning attorney, you can create a plan that allows your estate to avoid probate or helps your loved ones navigate the process with ease.

How Much Does an Estate Have to Be Worth to Go to Probate in California?

In the state of California, an estate is required to go through probate if the decedent’s estate is worth less than $166,250. Determining the value of an estate involves taking an inventory of all property the decedent owned, both real and personal, evaluating the total costs, and adding up any life insurance or retirement benefits that are to be paid to the beneficiaries.

What Does Probate Mean?

Probate is a process that divides someone’s assets after their death and involves verifying and carrying out the wishes they described in their will. This usually means making sure that all listed beneficiaries have their assets properly given to them, evaluating the value of any property owned by the decedent and the transference of those properties, and determining who will be responsible for resolving any final financial matters.

While it’s not always a mandatory process, probate is often required as a result of high property value or a lack of a will or trust. Probate is also a lengthy process, as wills need to be verified by the courts. If a will is invalid or not written clearly, the courts will have to distribute assets themselves. This often leads to disputes between beneficiaries.

Typically, this is why it is useful to meet with an experienced estate planning lawyer who can ensure that your will is clear and comprehensive. This way, it can be carried out as quickly as possible.

What Does the Probate Process Look Like?

In the event that the decedent was prepared and a will was created, the probate process is only a few simple steps that are as follows:

Obtaining the Will and Death Certificate

In order to file for probate, you will first need both the death certificate of the decedent as well as a copy of the will, if there is one. The death certificate can be obtained from the Department of Health or from the county clerk/recorder in which the certificate was issued. It’s important to receive multiple copies of the death certificate, as many institutions, such as banks, will need their own individual copy.

The will can typically be found with the lawyer with whom it was written, but copies can also usually be found in other safe places such as a safe, a lock box, etc. It’s important to inform trusted individuals where to find your will so that it can be executed properly.

Petition for Probate

Along with the death certificate and the will, the petition for probate must be filed with the probate court in the same county where the descendent was living. It is typically here that the executor of the will is named and that authority is granted.


Excluding a few exceptions such as vehicles, all real and personal property, as well as any life insurance or retirement benefits, must be subject to an inventory and appraisal. It is here that it is determined if probate is required. If the total of all assets of the estate is below $166,250 or if there aren’t any assets that require a complex transfer, the estate may not require a probate in California.

Resolve Financial Matters

After all creditors have been informed of the decedent’s death, they can make a claim for any debts that weren’t resolved. These claims are paid directly through the estate before any assets are to be given to the beneficiaries.

Distribute Assets

After debts are paid, the executor of the estate distributes all assets left to any listed beneficiaries or as the court chooses to distribute. Once these have been distributed and the executor submits a detailed account of these transactions, the court closes the estate.


What Assets Are Subject to Probate in California?

Any real and personal property, as well as life insurance or retirement benefits that are to be paid, are subject to probate in California. Real property refers to any land owned as well as anything attached to it, such as a home and the plot of land it was built on. Personal property usually refers to anything else a decedent owned, including tangible property like furniture or intangible property such as bank accounts.

What Is the Limit to Avoid Probate in California?

The limit to avoid probate in California is $166,250. You can calculate the value of an estate by taking the value of all real and personal property and adding it to any life insurance or retirement benefits that are/were to be received.

Is Probate Required for a Small Estate in California?

Probate may not necessarily be required for a small estate in California. If the will is written clearly, the estate’s value is under $166,250, and the beneficiaries do not have any issues with the assets they are receiving, the estate may not have to go through probate. However, if it is above that total, if the will is unclear, if there is no will, and/or if beneficiaries take issue with the division of assets, the estate can go to probate.

Do All Estates Have to Go Through Probate in California?

No, all estates do not have to go through probate in California. Bypassing probate is reserved for simple transfers for smaller estates that have a value of less than $166,250. Trusts may also allow an estate to bypass probate. However, if there are disputes between beneficiaries over assets, probate will likely be necessary.

Contact the Estate Preservation Group Team Today

Crafting a will and going through probate can be a long and stressful process with many different challenges. If you need help with your estate planning or the probate process, don’t hesitate to contact our team at the Estate Preservation Group today. With over 30 years of experience, we can help you plan for the future, ensure that your will is protected and executed, and help your loved ones through this difficult time. Contact us today.

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