If you have been appointed executor of a California estate, fulfilling your obligations can seem overwhelming, especially when you are still grieving and trying to make sense of the court’s many expectations and deadlines. While estate executors and representatives have many responsibilities, one of the most important is ensuring that the deceased person’s assets are accounted for, assessed, and appraised.  The valuation of property  | California Estate Planning Lawyer

Probate Property and Valuations

California’s probate code permits most small estates to avoid probate entirely. However, if the total value of an estate exceeds $150,000 and the deceased person—or decedent—did not have a revocable living trust or other comprehensive estate plan, the estate and its holdings will most likely be subject to probate.

Probate Property: What to Appraise

An important part of probate is valuing the estate. Some assets, like cash accounts, do not need to be appraised. However, their value must still be accounted for. Estate executors and representatives may assess cash, checks, money market funds, retirement plans, and insurance proceeds.  

If the estate holds any assets that cannot be appraised by the personal representative, the executor must consult a probate referee. A probate referee is a special assessor appointed by the state Controller’s Office who assesses certain items.

Items Assessed by the Probate Referee

  • Real property, such as a home
  • Business holdings
  • Automobiles
  • Stock portfolios
  • Bonds
  • Collectibles

Although probate referees can help calculate the overall value of an estate, some assets demand an expert appraisal.

When You Might Need an Expert Appraisal

If the decedent owned unique or valuable items, you may want to hire an independent expert to appraise the assets. You should consider expert appraisals for artwork, valuable antiques, coin collections, and designer or custom-made jewelry.

California law has some stipulations for expert appraisers. For instance, an expert appraiser should have experience valuing similar items and should not have any legal interest in the estate. This means, they should not be a beneficiary to the estate, an heir, or a potential buyer or seller of any of the estate assets.

The Importance of Estate Valuation

  • A low-value estate may not need to be probated
  • The court may need to consider the value of the estate to determine how assets should be disbursed if the deceased person died without a will
  • If the decedent had any outstanding debts, their estate assets could be garnished by potential creditors
  • If the decedent’s home goes on the market, its appraised value may be used to assess capital gains tax

Estates of significant value may also be subject to additional tax penalties. While California does not have a state-level estate tax, the federal government does. If an estate is not properly assessed, the Internal Revenue Service could present the estate’s beneficiaries with an unexpected bill.

How a California Attorney Can Help With Probate

California’s Probate Code sets out clear procedures for probate. However, that does not mean an estate executor has any easy job. Probate is often time-consuming and emotionally draining. That’s why it’s beneficial to hire an estate attorney to assist you with all the requirements in valuing an estate.

The Benefits of Hiring a California Attorney

  • An attorney can initiate probate proceedings in accordance with the court’s timeline
  • An attorney can marshal the estate’s assets
  • An attorney can create an inventory of assets
  • An attorney can work with the probate referee to ensure the estate is accurately valued
  • An attorney can contact experts to appraise artwork and other items outside the probate referee’s purview
  • An attorney can pay the estate’s creditors
  • An attorney can disburse inheritances
  • An attorney can respond to any potential probate challenges to the estate or the estate plan

Do You Need Legal Help Regarding Probate Issues in California?

If a loved one died without a will and you need legal assistance regarding the probate process you should speak with an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our office directly at 800.756.5596 to claim your space at one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a discount on our probate services. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills, and Pasadena.


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