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Simplified Probate Procedures

 
California has "simplified procedures" for transferring property when the estate is worth under a certain amount (from $20,000 to $150,000 depending on the circumstances and the kind of property).

Click on a topic to learn more:
  1. What do I do with property held in joint tenancy after the other tenant dies?
  2. What if the person who died had $20,000 or less in assets?
  3. What if the decedent’s assets are worth $150,000 or less?
  4. What if the decedent’s real property in California is worth $20,000 or less?
  5. Can the Court make an Order to clear title to real and personal property worth $150,000 or less?
  6. What is a Spousal Property Petition when there is a surviving spouse?
  7. How do I get a decedent's insurance proceeds and retirement death benefits?
  1. What do I do with property held in joint tenancy after the other tenant dies?

    Click on a topic to learn more:
    What is joint tenancy?
    Joint tenancy is a way for two or more people to own property in equal shares so that when one of the joint tenants dies, the property can pass to the surviving joint tenant(s) without having to go through probate court.

    Does joint tenancy have tax implications?
    Yes. If a joint tenant dies, the property is included in his or her taxable estate. Talk to a lawyer before putting property in joint tenancy or ending a joint tenancy.

    How do I create a joint tenancy?
    You must have a written document, like a deed to real property or title to a car, that says the property is in joint tenancy with the names of the joint tenants.

    What kinds of property do people put in joint tenancy?
    The most common assets owned jointly are real property (land or buildings), bank accounts, stocks and bonds and automobiles.

    How do I change the title on real property after the other tenant dies?
    You do not have to go to court. But, you need:
    • A certified copy of the death certificate of the joint tenant who died
    • An Affidavit signed by "anyone with knowledge of the facts"


    You can change the tile using a form called “Affidavit of Death of Joint Tenant.” [See the Sample Affidavit below.]

    There may be tax consequences. So, talk to a lawyer before you record the Affidavit.

    How do I prepare an Affidavit?
    You can use this Sample Form. It is not an official form, but you can use it for most cases.

    (Sample Form)

    AFFIDAVIT OF DEATH OF JOINT TENANT
    STATE OF CALIFORNIA
    COUNTY OF ALAMEDA


    I, [affiant's name], being duly sworn, say:

    I am 18 years of age or over. The decedent described in the attached certified copy of Certificate of Death is the same person as [name of person who died here], who is named as one of the parties in the deed dated [date], executed by [name of grantor] to [name of decedent] and [name of surviving joint tenant], as joint tenants, recorded on [date], in [ e.g., Book __, page __] of the Official Records of Alameda County, California, covering the property situated in [city], Alameda County, California, described as follows:

    [Provide legal description]

    Dated: _________[Signature]____

    ____[Typed name]______

    Affiant

    Subscribed and sworn to before me on [date]

    ___[Signature]___

    ___[Typed name]__ [Seal] Notary Public for the State of California


    To read more about the law on this topic, see Probate Code Section 210-212.

    How do I record an Affidavit?
    Take a certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased joint tenant and your affidavit to the recorder's office in the county where the real property is located. How do I handle bank accounts held in joint tenancy?
    In most cases, you can remove the deceased person’s name from the accounts by taking these documents to the bank:
    • A certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased joint tenant, and
    • A check drawn for the balance of the checking account, or
    • The savings account passbook.

    How do I handle vehicles held in joint tenancy?
    The National Automobile Club of California and the California State Automobile Association (AA) will help you get the ownership certificate and the registration card reissued.

    Take the documents listed below to the club office closest to you. You can find the address in your phone book. They will give you a temporary ownership certificate and send your documents to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for re-issuance.
    • The ownership certificate signed by the surviving owner,
    • The registration card,
    • A certificate of compliance with the smog-pollution control law (if the deceased joint tenant is not the grandparent, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, or spouse of the surviving joint tenant.) See Vehicle Code Section 4000.1(d) (2), and
    • A certified copy of the death certificate for the deceased joint tenant.

    How do I handle securities held in joint tenancy? Take or mail the following documents to the transfer agent at the financial institution:
    • A certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased joint tenant, and
    • The original stock certificate (if the deceased joint tenant had one).

    There may be tax consequences. So, talk to a lawyer first.


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  3. What if the person who died had $20,000 or less in assets? If the deceased person’s real and personal property is worth $20,000 or less, the spouse or minor children can ask the court to "set aside" the estate. This is much easier than a full probate proceeding.
    If you want the court to set aside the estate, you can file a Petition requesting an order to set aside the decedent’s estate as provided in Probate Code Section 6602.

    Do I have to include all property to calculate the value of the estate?
    You do not have to include property held in joint tenancy, multiple-party accounts, or pay-on-death accounts. But, you must include the decedent's share of any community property.

    Who has to pay the decedent’s debts?
    If the Court sets aside the estate, the surviving spouse or children have to pay the decedent's unsecured debts up to the value of the estate, minus liens and homestead or other exempt property.

    If you get the estate, you are responsible for the decedent’s debts for one year unless the creditor files a court action during that year.

    There may be tax consequences. So, talk to a lawyer first.

    To read more about the law on this topic, see Probate Code Section 6600.


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  5. What if the decedent’s personal and real property is worth $150,000 or less? You can collect the decedent’s personal property and distribute it to the heirs (or the beneficiaries named in the Will) by using a declaration. This method is called the Section 13100 Procedure.
    This procedure has certain rules:
    • You can’t use it to distribute real property (land or buildings)
    • You can use it for property that would automatically pass to a spouse
    • You must wait 40 days after the decedent dies before you can collect or distribute the decedent’s assets
    • You must give a written declaration to the person or agency that has the property or is in charge of the transfer of the property

    To read more about the law on this topic, see Probate Code Section 13100.

    What if the person dies without a Will?
    If the decedent dies without a Will, the only people who have the right to collect his or her property are:
    • heirs,
    • conservator or guardian of the estate of any heir,
    • trustee of a trust created by the decedent (inter vivos trust) for the benefit of an heir, or
    • any other successor allowed under the law.

    If the decedent dies with a Will, only the beneficiaries under the Will are entitled to collect.


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  7. What if the decedent’s real property in California is worth $20,000 or less?
    To transfer the real property, use California Judicial Council Form DE-305, Affidavit Re: Real Property of Small Value ($20,000 or Less). After filling it out, sign it in front of a notary. The form will ask you for an inventory and appraisal and a description of the real property.

    There are certain rules for this procedure:
    • It is not for joint tenancy. (See joint tenancy above.)
    • Any heir or beneficiary can use it.
    • The value of the decedent's personal property does not matter.
    • You must file your form with the Clerk of the Superior Court. You will have to pay a fee. (See fee listed for "Filing affidavit under Probate Code 13200" on the Probate Fee Schedule).
    • If the decedent had a guardian or conservator when s/he died, you must mail them a copy of the completed form.
    • There must not be a current or past probate proceeding.

    Or, if there is a probate proceeding pending:
    • The personal representative consents in writing to this procedure.
    • It has been at least 6 months since the decedent died.
    • All of the decedent's unsecured debts have been paid.

    If you need a marketable title (title that is free from any defects or reasonable doubts about who has title) to the property, take a certified copy of your filed form to the County Recorder of the county where the real property is located.

    To read more about the law on this topic, see Probate Code Section 13200.


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  9. Can the Court make an Order to clear title to real and personal property worth $150,000 or less?
    Yes. If you are an heir or beneficiary, you can ask the Court to make an order to clear title. You can do this to transfer:
    • real property only, or
    • real and personal property

    You cannot do this for personal property only. To transfer only personal property, use the Affidavit or declaration procedure.

    You do not have to include property outside of California, held in joint tenancy, in a revocable living trust, in pay-on-death accounts, passing to the surviving spouse under a Spousal Property Petition, or other property as explained in Probate Code Section 13151.

    There are certain rules:
    • All heirs or beneficiaries to the decedent’s property must join with you in your request to the court (by signing the petition).
    • There must not be a current or past probate proceeding.

    Or, if there is a probate proceeding pending:
    • The personal representative must consent to this procedure in writing.
    • It must be at least 6 months since the decedent died.
    • All of the decedent's unsecured debts must have been paid.

    Fill out form DE-310, Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property. You can use this form for clearing title to personal and real property, too.

    File the form with the Court Clerk. The Clerk will assign a hearing date. You must have notice of the hearing served to the person listed on paragraph 14 of DE-310. Someone 18 or over and not involved in this case must serve the notice. Use form DE-120 to prove that notice has been given. File this completed form along with any other documents required on DE-310.

    You must also fill out DE-315, Order Determining Succession to Real Property (Estates $150,000 or less), and give it to the clerk’s office at least 5 days before the hearing.

    If the Court approves the Petition, the judge will sign the Order, have the clerk file it, and give your conformed copies back to you.

    If you need a marketable title (title that is free from any defects or reasonable doubts about who has title) to real property transferred to you by the Order, take a certified copy of your filed Order to the County Recorder of the county where the real property is located.

    If you receive property under this procedure, you will be responsible for the decedent's debts, up to the fair market value of the property you received as calculated at the time of death.


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  11. What is a Spousal Property petition when there is a surviving spouse?
    A Spousal Property petition is a way to transfer or confirm property to a surviving spouse  or registered domestic partner without a full probate proceeding. It can usually be done with only one hearing in the court. If the decedent’s estate is not complicated, the petition can settle questions about title or ownership of property.

    Who can file a Spousal Property petition?
    • The surviving spouse, or
    • The representative of a surviving spouse's or registered domestic partner's estate (if the surviving spouse is also now deceased), or
    • The conservator of the surviving spouse's or registered domestic partner's estate, or
    • The registered domestic partner.

    How do I file a Spousal Property petition?
    • Fill out and file form DE-221 explaining why the property belongs or should legally pass to the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner and describing the property.
    • Attach a copy of the decedent’s Will (if there is a Will).
    • Attach a copy of the agreement (if the description of the property as a community property is based on a written agreement between the decedent and the surviving spouse).

    Will there be a Court Hearing?
    Yes. When you file your forms, the clerk will tell you the hearing date. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny your petition.

    Do I have to do anything before the hearing?
    Yes. At least 15 days before the hearing, you must have the following people served (given) a Notice of Hearing (by mail or in person):
    • The executor or administrator of the estate (if a probate of the estate has been started in court).
    • All heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased spouse.
    • All persons who have an interest in the estate and have asked for Special Notice (Probate Code Section 1250).
    • The Attorney General of California (if the Petition is based on the deceased spouse’s Will and if the Will involves a charitable bequest or devise when there is no identified trustee resident in California or no identified legatee, devisee, or beneficiary).

    Do I need an Order for a Spousal Property Petition?
    Yes. You must fill out DE-226, Spousal Property Order and give it to the clerk’s office at least 5 days before the hearing. Please attach a note to this form with the date of your hearing.

    If the Court approves the Petition, the judge will sign the Order, have the clerk file it, and give your conformed copies back to you.

    Talk to a lawyer to see if you will be responsible for the decedent's debts.


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  13. How do I get a decedent’s insurance proceeds and retirement death benefits?
    Life insurance proceeds
    Find all the decedent’s life insurance policies, if available. You may be able to get them from:
    • The insurance company or companies
    • Credit card companies (like, insurance for credit card debt)
    • Fraternal organization or club memberships
    • The employer (Group life insurance)
    • The military

    Then:
    • Find out who the beneficiaries of the policy are.
    • Contact the decedent's insurance agent or broker.
    • Advise the insurance company of the decedent's name, date of death, policy number and who the beneficiaries are.
    • Send a certified copy of the decedent's death certificate along with the claim form to the insurance company.
    • Ask the insurance company for a proof of claim form.

    Retirement benefits
    Find out the amount of the benefit, the entitled beneficiaries and the payout options.

    Send a certified copy of the decedent's death certificate along with the claim form to the company.

    Talk to a tax consultant to learn about your options and the tax implications.

    Some companies have Human Resources Departments that help employees and their families understand retirement/employee benefits.

    Other companies may require you to consult with a bank or institutional trustee, a life insurance company or a commercial pension administrator.


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