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Small estate and probate law in California pertain to the legal processes that govern the distribution of a deceased person’s assets when their estate meets certain criteria for a “small estate.” This is typically done when the total value of the estate is $184,500 or less (for the deaths before 2022, this threshold was $166,250). The specific value limit may change periodically, so it’s always best to check the latest information from the California courts. This is typically a simplified and faster process compared to a full probate, which is a formal court-supervised procedure for handling the estates of decedents.

Probate Code Sections: The rules and procedures for small estates in California are outlined in the California Probate Code, particularly in sections 13100-13116. These sections provide the legal framework for using a Small Estate Affidavit to transfer assets.

Benefits of Small Estate Law

There are several benefits to using small estate law in California:

• It is a quick and easy process compared to traditional probate.
• It is less expensive than traditional probate.
• It does not require court involvement, unless there is real property involved.

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Eligibility for Small Estate Law

To be eligible for small estate law in California, the following conditions must be met:

  1. At least 40 days must have passed since the date of death.
  2. There should be no pending probate or formal administration of the estate.
  3. Real Property: If the decedent owned real property, the estate may not qualify as a small estate, and the real property may need to go through the regular probate process. However, there are some exceptions for small estates that include real estate.
  4. The total value of the estate must be $184,500 or less.
  5. The decedent must have died with a will or without a will.
  6. There must be a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, or if there is no surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, there must be a surviving heir.
  7. Executor or Administrator: The person who signs the Small Estate Affidavit is typically an “affiant” or “petitioner,” not an executor or administrator, as in a full probate. The affiant is usually a person with legal authority to act on behalf of the estate, such as a surviving spouse, domestic partner, child, or other heir.

Types of Small Estate Procedures

There are two main types of small estate procedures in California:

  • Affidavit for Collection or Transfer of Personal Property: This is used to transfer personal property, such as bank accounts, stocks, and vehicles.
    Affidavit re Real Property of Small Value: This is used to transfer real property, such as houses and land.
  • How to File a Small Estate Affidavit

To file a small estate affidavit, you will need to:

  • Complete the appropriate form
  • Gather the required documents, such as a death certificate and proof of ownership of the property.
  • Have the affidavit signed by a notary public.
  • File the affidavit with the clerk of the court in the county where the decedent resided.
  • Real Property Transfer


To use a Small Estate Affidavit, certain documents must be filed with the California Superior Court in the county where the decedent resided. These documents include the Small Estate Affidavit, a copy of the will (if there is one), an inventory and appraisal, and an order for the distribution of the estate. If the estate includes real property, the Affidavit Real Property of Small Value must be filed with the county recorder’s office in the county where the property is located.

Seek Legal Guidance

It’s important to note that the rules and thresholds for small estates can change, so it’s advisable to consult with an attorney or check the latest California Probate Code to ensure compliance with the current laws and regulations. While small estate procedures are generally straightforward, it is always advisable to seek legal guidance from an attorney if you have any questions or concerns. An attorney can help you ensure that you are following the proper procedures and that your rights are protected.


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What is a small estate and law related to it in California?