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Do I Need to File a Probate if Someone Died with Few Possessions?

As a probate lawyer in Folsom, I am often asked whether or not probate is necessary if someone died with limited assets. The need for probate is often determined by the value and type of assets a deceased person leaves behind, as well as the local laws and regulations in the jurisdiction where the person lived. If someone had very little property, it’s possible that their estate may qualify for simplified probate procedures or may be exempt from probate altogether.

Here are some considerations:

  1. Small Estates and Simplified Procedures:
    • Some jurisdictions have simplified probate procedures for small estates. If the value of the deceased person’s assets falls below a certain threshold, the estate may qualify for expedited probate processes or even be exempt from formal probate altogether.
  2. Probate Thresholds:
    • The specific threshold for simplified probate procedures varies by jurisdiction. In many places, if the estate’s value is below a certain amount (which can vary significantly), it may be eligible for simplified probate or an alternative procedure. In California, in order to qualify for a simplified small estate probate, the deceased must not have left behind greater than $184,500 worth of assets (as of 2023). Assets include all real estate, personal belongings and all financial assets as well. It is important to note that there are certain assets, such as vehicles, that are exempt from this amount.
    • It is also important to note that the aforementioned monetary threshold is a general guideline. There are more specific requirements for certain situations, including the transfer of real estate.
  3. Non-Probate Assets:
    • Certain assets may pass directly to beneficiaries outside of probate. Examples include assets held in joint tenancy, life insurance policies with named beneficiaries, retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries, and assets held in a living trust. These assets typically transfer directly to the named beneficiaries without the need for probate. As such, whether or not the deceased had few assets, these assets will generally transfer without probate. 
  4. Exempt Property:
    • Some jurisdictions provide exemptions for certain types of property, allowing them to bypass probate. This might include a limited amount of personal property or a specific value of a homestead. For example, in California, vehicles are generally exempt property that can pass outside of probate. 
  5. Affidavit Procedures:
    • In some cases, especially for small estates, jurisdictions may allow the use of simplified affidavit procedures to transfer assets without going through formal probate. The small estate affidavit generally states that the estate qualifies for simplified procedures and provides information about the deceased person, the heirs, and the assets. This small estate affidavit procedure applies in California. 
    • When utilizing the small estate affidavit, it is important to note that individual institutions, such as financial institutions, may require the issue of their own forms for small estate transfers. Additionally, although the law is properly followed, some institutions may not be familiar with small estate procedures.


Even if someone had very little property, consulting with a Folsom probate lawyer can help ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to settle the estate efficiently and in compliance with local laws. They can provide guidance on whether probate is necessary and assist with any alternative procedures that may be available. If you have any other questions about whether or not probate is necessary for someone who died with few possessions, contact Thapar Law at 916-579-0605 or send us a message

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