• Andrew Domer

California Probate Legislation: Amendments to Small Estate Procedures

Two months ago, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 473, amending the laws that authorize simplified procedures to dispose of a decedent's personal and real property valued below specified dollar amounts without a full probate administration by increasing those dollar amounts. Specifically, as of January 1, 2020:

  • The dollar amount of a decedent's net estate that qualifies for a small estate set-aside for a surviving spouse and minor children is increased from $20,000 to $85,900 under Section 6602 of the Probate Code.

  • The dollar amount of a decedent's estate that qualifies for disposition using the small estate affidavit procedure is increased from $150,000 to $166,250 (§§13100-01).

  • The amount of unpaid compensation that a surviving spouse may collect from the decedent-spouse's employer that is excluded in determining the property or estate of the decedent for purposes of using the small estate set-aside or small estate affidavit procedure is increased from $15,000 to $16,625 (§§13050(c)(2) and 13600-05).

Under the new Probate Code Section 850, beginning April 1, 2022, and at each 3–year interval ending on April 1st thereafter, these dollar amounts will be adjusted based the consumer price index published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those adjusted dollar amounts, and the date of the next adjustment, are to be published on schedule and released to the public by the Judicial Council.

Lastly, under current law, a person who receives property under one of the small estate probate proceedings from a decedent's estate and who is later required to return such property to the estate is generally required to additionally pay interest at the rate payable on a money judgment on the fair market value of the decedent's property for the duration that the person held that property. Under the new law, the rate of interest has been changed to 7% annually based on the fair market value of the property (§§13111-12, 13206-07, and 13562-63). The new law also gives the court discretion to excuse a recipient of property from the liability to pay interest if the recipient acted reasonably and in good faith under the circumstances known to the recipient and if it is equitable to do so (§§13211 and 13565).