California Probate: Bypassing the California Probate Process
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If you're looking to bypass the California probate courts, you may be in luck if the decedent's estate is worth $20,000 or less (not counting property that does not go through probate, such as a home or car jointly owned by the decedent's spouse). In order to distribute such an estate without going through California probate, request that the court set aside the estate for distribution to the spouse or minor children. In addition, an heir to real property (buildings or land) contained in an under-$20,000 estate can file a DE-305 Affidavit re Real Property of Small Value if no probate process is pending.
Estates worth $100,000 or less can also be distributed independently of the California probate system; personal property from such estates can be distributed by filing a declaration in a Section 13100 procedure. Check with your local Superior Court for the proper form. As an example, the San Diego forms are available here. After waiting 40 days, heirs can collect personal items such as clothing, cars, and furniture. However, buildings and land (real property) in estates that exceed $100,000 in value cannot bypass the probate system by declaration; they require more complex filings that may necessitate hiring a California probate lawyer. For more information, check out our article on the Basics of California Probate.