The small estate procedure in California

Probate, the legal process of distributing an individual’s assets to their heirs upon death is costly, time consuming and comprised of complex, administrative hurdles most people would like to avoid. Indeed, people regularly use any number of legal vehicles to simplify their estate and transfer property upon death to designated beneficiaries.

Small estate affidavit

One such transfer mechanism is the small estate affidavit. Established through California Probate Code 13050, this filing allows people to settle small estates quickly, cheaply and with no probate at all.

Who qualifies?

In California, to be counted as a small estate, the decedent’s combined real property and personal property cannot exceed a ceiling of $184,500, providing the decedent passed away after April 1, 2022.

If that estate valuation has been met, after a 40-day waiting period after date of death, the beneficiary, who has either been named in the will or is the relative closest to the deceased per statutory inheritance succession if the decedent died intestate (without a will), may proceed.

Along with a filing fee of $435, the beneficiary goes to the probate court where the decedent lived and files the small estate affidavit, otherwise known as the “affidavit for the collection of personal property.”

When presented with said affidavit and the decedent’s death certificate, parties in possession of the estate’s assets must release them to the beneficiary.

Estate valuations

Because of the numerous line-item exemptions built into the code, many estates that would seem to exceed the $184,500 limit can be transferred with this procedure. Considering the substantial savings of time and money of the small estate affidavit vis-à-vis probate, it’s wise to consult with counsel experienced in this area of the law to explore options.