Whenever a deceased person’s assets move through a California probate court, the estate’s representative or executor must collect and inventory the estate’s real, physical, and cash assets. Inventorying assets can be easy if they have a known value, as is the case with cash accounts or stock portfolios. However, California does not let estate representatives assign values to most non-cash assets. If and when non-cash probate assets need to be appraised, the court will hand over that responsibility to a probate referee. 

Probate Attorneys Kavesh Minor & Otis

The Role of a Probate Referee

Probate referees are appointed by the California State Controller to serve a specific county. They review the inventory of an estate and then appraise the value of listed non-cash assets. In some cases, they may also appraise the value of non-probate assets such as those transferred into a living trust.

If an estate needs a probate referee, they may be automatically appointed. If a county probate court does not automatically select a probate referee, the estate representative or executor will have to file a request for the court to appoint one. The exact paperwork needed to order a referee varies from county to county, as do processing times and filing requirements.

Getting a Probate Referee If One Isn’t Appointed

Sometimes the executor may be able to choose an individual probate referee from a register of available referees; a list of probate referees is available on the California Controller’s website.

The benefits of choosing a referee should be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney familiar with the court’s jurisdiction. 

In certain, limited circumstances, the court can waive an appraisal by a probate referee. Oftentimes, estate administrators will request such waivers to save money. However, these requests are not commonly granted—and even when they are, they tend not to garner significant savings. 



Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.