Small Estate Transfers
In California, if the decedent’s estate is valued at less than $150,000 then you can transfer the personal property avoiding probate. Pursuant to Probate Code section 13100, as long as no probate proceeding has begun regarding that estate, an heir to the decedent entitled to receive that personal property may do so without entering the court room.
However, most entities that hold the property on behalf of the decedent, like a bank or other financial institution, will not allow a transfer or property by simply telling them you are entitled to the funds. Instead, you must sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that you are entitled to that property (among other things outlined in Probate Code section 13101).
Additionally, while many banks and private institutions require the affidavit to be filled out in their form, many counties have an affidavit form to be used to satisfy the Probate Code (including this one from San Bernardino County).
Finally, things get slightly more complicated if real property is involved. If part of the estate is real property, then pursuant to Probate Code section 13151 you must go into court to have the property transferred. First, you must get a probate referee to agree that the total valuation of the estate is under $150,000. The probate referee certifies this by filling out the inventory and appraisal completed (form DE-160). Additionally, you must file a petition with the court to transfer the real property. The process is a much more simplified version of probate and should not take nearly as long to complete. The petition form can be found here.
While this process is simplified in part to allow people to transfer a decedent’s property without having to spend too much time or money in court or on attorneys, there are still enough complications that it is recommended that you always retain an attorney when attempting to transfer real property.