If you have been appointed the personal representative of a California estate, you will likely be responsible for finding, collecting, and inventorying all of the decedent’s assets. After the estate’s assets have been inventoried, the court will appraise them, allowing for potential creditors to be paid and heirs to receive their inheritances. 

California Probate Attorney Kavesh Minor & Otis

Marshaling and Inventorying Assets

Inventorying an estate’s assets is an important part of the California probate process. This is done after the court has appointed or approved a personal representative for an estate, which affords the representative legal power to take control of the decedent’s probate assets. Before the representative can begin paying the estate’s debts and distributing inheritances, they have to account for the totality of the estate’s assets by marshalling the decedent’s possessions and accounts. This requires that they discover, collect, and identify all of the decedent’s probate assets, which must then be inventoried in preparation for appraisal. 

What Inventories Should Include

A successful inventory should include all of the following items owned or otherwise controlled by the decedent:

  • Real property, including homes and commercial properties
  • Financial accounts, including savings and investment accounts
  • Cash holdings
  • Household furniture
  • Cars and boats
  • Jewelry and other valuables

Personal representatives must identify which assets need to be appraised and which do not. Cash assets, for instance, do not typically require a court appraisal. However, the estate representative will still have to note the value and location of cash assets, in what form they are held, and where they are held. 

Ensuring a correct inventory is critical because the court will use the personal representative’s inventory list to appraise the estate. Without an accurate inventory, it may not be possible to pay debt, distribute inheritances to heirs, and close the estate. 

Filing Deadlines

Personal representatives have four months to marshal the estate’s assets, finalize an inventory, and submit the inventory to the court for appraisal. If a representative does not submit their completed inventory within that time, a probate judge may order them removed from their position.

Before the representative can close an estate and begin distributing inheritances, they must submit an inventory and appraisal form to the probate court. Once this form has been received by the court, it will appoint a probate referee to appraise the estate’s inventoried assets. After the referee completes their appraisal, they will sign the form and send it back to the personal representative, who must submit it to the probate court.

Avoiding Mistakes

Inventorying an estate can be challenging, since the decedent’s assets may not all be stored in a single location. Even if they are, it can be difficult to determine which assets are probate assets and which are not. There are many common mistakes you can make as a representative, including:

Missing filing deadlines or submitting the wrong forms to the court.

While probate judges may overlook honest mistakes, personal representatives may be removed from their positions for missing deadlines. In some limited circumstances, they may be held liable for other mistakes by the estate’s creditors or debtors. 

Misrepresenting ownership rights and interests.

If the decedent held only a partial interest in a home, business, or other asset, the inventory should clearly and unambiguously state this.

Failing to thoroughly investigate the extent of the decedent’s holdings.

Often, inventorying an estate’s assets means going through computer records, checking the decedent’s mail, and searching properties to ensure the inventory is thorough and complete.

Including non-probate assets in the inventory.

These assets can include those transferred to a trust for the specific purpose of avoiding probate.

Some inventory mistakes, such as item omissions or unintentional misrepresentations, can be amended by submitting a supplemental inventory form to the probate court.

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 be 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 for our probate services. 


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