Check if you can use a simple process to transfer property

Not all estates need to go through formal probate. Depending on how the property is owned, and the type and amount of property, you may not need to go to court or you may be able to use a simpler court process.

This page covers a few common situations where you may not need formal probate

Using the information you have about the decedent's property, review the options below to figure out if there are possible ways to transfer the property without formal probate.

Even if one of these applies to your situation, there may be other things to consider

For example, you should also consider whether the person owed money to anyone else, like a personal loan or credit card debt. In general, if a person owed money, their estate is liable for the debt. But, if someone inherits from the estate and the debt is not paid, the company or person owed money could seek payment from the person with the inheritance. Get advice from a lawyer if you need more information about this type of situation.

Options to transfer property without formal probate

Most government benefits, like social security survivor benefits, can be collected without going to probate court.

Property with named beneficiaries 

Find out if the person who died listed anyone as a beneficiary on the property. This is common in certain types of property, for example:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Bank or retirement accounts
  • Pensions
  • Annuities
  • Property in a living trust

If you are named as a beneficiary, you should be able to transfer the property to yourself without going to probate court.

Property with someone else on the title

If the person owned any property (like real estate), you will want to see how it is owned (the title of ownership or the deed) and if there is any right of survivorship.

  • If the property is owned in joint tenancy, the surviving owner gets the property
  • If the property provides for "transfer on death", it can transfer automatically to the person listed as an owner 
  • If the property is owned by spouses as community property (from a marriage or registered domestic partnership), the surviving spouse may have the right to survivorship.

Also, check bank accounts. These can be joint accounts with rights to survivorship. 

You can transfer property without opening probate if the estate is valued under a set amount. That amount changes every few years and is based on the year the person passed away.

  • If the person died on April 1, 2022, or later, it is $184,500
  • If the person died before April 1, 2022, the limit is $166,250

You can find the latest limits in Maximum Values for Small Estate Set-Aside & Disposition of Estate Without Administration (form DE-300).

How to figure out the value of the estate

Add up the value of: 

  • All real and personal property
  • All life insurance or retirement benefits that will be paid to the estate (but not any insurance or retirement benefits designated to be paid to some other person)

Do not include:

  • Cars, boats, or mobile homes
  • Real property outside of California
  • Property held in trust, including a living trust
  • Real or personal property that the person who died owned with someone else (joint tenancy)
  • Property (community, quasi-community, or separate) that passed directly to the surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Life insurance, death benefits or other assets not subject to probate that pass directly to the beneficiaries
  • Unpaid salary or other compensation up to the amount listed in Maximum Values for Small Estate Set-Aside & Disposition of Estate Without Administration (form DE-300)
  • The debts or mortgages of the person who died. (You are not allowed to subtract the debts of the person who died.
  • Bank accounts owned by multiple persons, including the person who died

You can get a more detailed explanation in California Probate Code section 13050.

If the total value of these assets is at the set amount or less and 40 days have passed since the death, you can:

 Transfer personal property using an Affidavit

If a surviving spouse or domestic partner is legally entitled to all the property, they can file a spousal property petition. This is faster and less complicated than opening probate. For example, a couple that was married for decades may only own community property, which belongs to the surviving spouse or partner and is confirmed or passed by the court in the spousal property petition case.

There must be proof to support whether something is community property. For example, deeds and bank statements may be helpful documents to find out how the title to an asset has been held during the marriage or domestic partnership. If the person who died had a will, review the will to be sure they did not leave their property to someone else (not their spouse). The spouses may also have had an agreement, called a prenuptial agreement or prenup for short, that says an asset is not community property. You may need to talk to a lawyer if you're not sure.

If the property is community property, the spouse or domestic partner can fill out and file a Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition (form DE-221) to get a court order that says:

  • What their share of the community property is
  • What part of their deceased spouse's or domestic partner’s share of community and separate property belongs to them

Formal probate

If one of the above options does not apply or you do not want to use it, find out more about formal probate.


If you need formal probate

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