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Small Estate Probate

When an individual passes away with or without a will, their estate must go through the probate process in the probate courts.  The purpose of probate is so that the will can be proven in court, if one exists, and so that the correct heirs or beneficiaries can receive the correct assets.  Also, during this process the courts ensure that any creditors of the decedent are paid in full. 

The California legislature has carved out a special exception to the regular probate process in what is known as “small estate probate.”  Here, the time to completion is greatly reduced, as are the attorney fees.  This article will introduce you to the main points of small estate probate as seen from the viewpoint of an experienced Folsom probate lawyer.

Regular Probate: Timeline and Costs

The regular probate process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in the Sacramento metropolitan area.  Probate costs are generally broken into legal fees and court filing fees.  The legal fees are set by statute, with attorneys capped at the total amount they can charge for probate. For a $500,000 estate, for example, the attorney legal fees are set at $13,000. Similarly, the court filing fees are also set by statute.  In the greater Sacramento metro area, the filing fees for probate is $435. This applies to Sacramento County, Placer County and El Dorado County.

Small Estate Probate: Qualifying Factors, Timeline and Costs

As stated above, small estate probate can be expedient and also saves money, but the decedent’s estate must qualify for the small estate probate.  In order to qualify, the decedent’s estate must be below a certain monetary threshold, namely that the gross value of the estate is less than $184,500, as of 2024. This includes real estate, cash, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, personal belongings and other tangible items.  If the gross value of the estate exceeds this threshold then the estate cannot use the small estate process and instead must go through regular probate.  Please note that certain assets are exempt from this value, such as motor vehicles, which can pass outside the probate process. Also, it is important to note that real estate cannot be transferred via the small estate probate.

In calculating the values of what assets counts towards the probate estate, only those assets which did not have beneficiary designations or co-ownership will count towards these thresholds.  So, for example, if a house has a community property designation on the deed, then the house would not be counted towards the probate estate because it passes “outside of probate” through the designation.  Furthermore, if a bank account or investment account had a beneficiary designation, then the assets in those accounts also would not count towards the value thresholds. 

If the decedent’s estate does indeed meet the value thresholds, then there are significant time and monetary savings to the estate.  First, the timeline of the process is greatly reduced and generally can be fully closed out in a short period.  Second, the probate fees are a fraction of regular probate.


Small estate probate is generally preferable to regular probate, so long as certain value thresholds are not exceeded.  If they are not exceeded, the estate can save significant time and money in transferring assets to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries.  If you have any questions regarding small estate probate or are seeking an experienced Folsom probate lawyer, please give us a call or send us a message. 

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