Q: Father dies leaving a small estate consisting of a house valued at around $80,000 and a pickup truck valued at $4,000. His will designates son and daughter to get everything split equally. Is probate required? Is it complex enough to require lawyers or can an individual file the required papers? And what might those be?
A: I will assume that the house and the pickup truck are titled only in father's name. Because the house is valued at less than $150,000, a formal probate proceeding will not be required.
However, the son and daughter will need to obtain an appraisal of the real and personal property from the probate referee appointed in the decedent's county of residence. A "Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property" is then filed with the court under the "small estates" statutes asking the court to determine that son and daughter are the father's successors and that the house passes to them as beneficiaries under his will.
While this is not an exceptionally complex process, there are procedural requirements that must be met before the court can grant the petition. An attorney experienced in probate should be able to handle this task for a reasonable fee.
If you prefer to take on this task yourself, the probate department clerk can provide the required forms or you can obtain them online at www.courts.ca.gov/form.htm. You might also consider visiting your local law library where a librarian can point you to research tools.