California Probate Code Section 13100 -13116 allows estates of persons who died after Jan 1, 2012, with assets valued at $150,000 or less to avoid a formal probate process. Beneficiaries and heirs are able to receive their inheritances quicker and with much lower expense. The $150,000 does not include anything that passes to your heirs through a beneficiary designation, such as with life insurance or an IRA, or through joint tenancy.
Process to Collect
In order to collect a deceased relative’s assets, the heir or beneficiary must wait 40 days after the death and present a special affidavit or declaration with a certified copy of the death certificate. The affidavit must state that the person(s) claiming the property is(are) the only authorized heir(s) to the decedent’s estate under California Probate Code Section 13006 that either there is no probate proceeding or the personal representative of the estate has authorized the transfer of the asset to the beneficiary.
The affidavit or declaration must be presented to the bank or other financial institution or government agency holding the asset or in charge of issuing the transfer of title or registration of the asset in order to receive it. So for instance if your dad owned a car in his name at the time of his death, you would take the declaration or affidavit to the DMV and request that the title be transferred in your name. You would be responsible for paying any fees or costs associated with transferring title to you.
Keep in mind though if your loved one owed money to creditors such as credit card companies or had unpaid medical bills, if you are the sole beneficiary receiving your relative’s assets, you are responsible for paying your relative’s creditors out of those assets.
Assets Excluded from Probate
Assets that the decedent held with another person (jointly) such as real property, bank counts, stocks, or assets with named beneficiaries such as life insurance, pension and retirement accounts, are not considered part of the $150,000 small estate exemption. For example , if you are the beneficiary of an IRA worth $1,000,000, and the only other asset of the estate is a bank account with $149,000 in it, you can still use the small estate procedure and not have to go through the probate court
Real Estate Exception
Real estate worth under $150,000 cannot be transferred by a declaration or affidavit. However there is a special court procedure for real estate worth less than $150,000 that is much quicker and less expensive than a probate case.
If you are an executor of an estate, family member/heir or beneficiary of a decedent’s will, you should consult with a California probate and estate attorney to determine whether your loved one’s assets are subject to a formal probate process or are exempt under the California Small Estates Probate Statutes. The attorney can assist you with filing a probate petition if needed, including the transfer of real estate assets, and also assist with reviewing creditor’s claims or represent you in connection with other estate matters. Please feel free to contact our office at 858-792-5988 for a consultation.