Bakersfield, CA Inheritance Law

Bakersfield, California 93263

What California Residents Need to Know About Inheritance Law

California offers several ways to make the inheritance process easier, from allowing Transfer on Death Deeds (TODDs) to its allowance of simpler procedures for "small estates" worth less than $186,000. With a little advanced planning to exclude property from probate, you may have no trouble getting under this limit.

Statutory probate fees in California tend to be quite high compared to other states. That means it's all the more important to take steps to keep as much property out of probate as possible.

What Brings You Here?

Welcome to the fastest and easiest way to find out about Inheritance Law in California.

Are you...

... an inheritor wondering how to get access to the deceased's property?
... named as an executor or trustee in a loved one’s will or living trust and you need to know how the probate process works, or
... planning ahead now, and want to learn how to avoid probate to make it easy for your loved ones to get your property after you die.

This site will provide you with tips and tools and checklists that you can use in California to transfer property at death as quickly and affordablbly as possible. 

Six Things to Keep In Mind About California Inheritance Law

Here are 6 things to keep in mind about probate and transferring property at death:

1. Much of your property never goes through probate or your will

You may not realize that, if your bank accounts or other accounts have a named beneficiary on file with the financial institution, that account will never pass through your will and will bypass the probate process. 

Many estates can avoid probate altogether, because assets will go to named beneficiaries because they are held as pay-on-death or  joint tenancy accounts, or in retirement accounts with a named beneficiary or life insurance, or the assets were held in a living trust, and whatever is left is small enough to fall under a state's small estates limit.

Property That Avoids Probate in California

If you are a beneficiary or a joint owner "with right of survivorship" (WROS), you can typically claim the asset by dealing with the financial institution directly, and provide them with a death certificate and proof of your identity as a beneficiary.

  • Retirement Accounts: How to inherit an IRAs and other retirement accounts in California.
  • Life Insurance: How to inherit life insurance.
  • Joint Tenancy w/Right of Survivorship (JTWROS): How to inherit joint tenancy property.
  • Pay on Death and Transfer-on-Death Financial Accounts (POD) & (TOD): How to inherit payable-on-death or transfer on accounts in California.
  • Transfer-on-Death Deeds (TODDs): TODDs are a low cost alternative to a living trust as a simple way to transfer real estate at death without probate, the same way you would a financial account. Learn if transfer-on-death deeds are avaialble in California. 
    • California has allowed TODDs since 2016. However, it recently revised its law in 2022 and now requires a few more formalities when creating one, and for the beneficiary when claiming the property after the original dies. But it still avoids probate.

  • Living Trusts: Property held by a living trust does not pass through probate, but only if property ownership was correctly transferred to the living trust once it was set up

2. Probate is governed by state law and is handled by the county court where the deceased person resided or owned property

If you haven't done so already, make sure you enter the zip code or at least select the state and county of residence for the person who died, to learn about the probate law and probate court procedure for that state and county.

Helpful Links


Bakersfield, CA Probate Court Finder: Get details about Kern County probate court. 

(You are currently looking at information for Bakersfield, CA. Click here for information about Probate Court for Kern County.)

If the Deceased Owned Property In More Than One State

If the deceased person owned property in more than one state, "ancillary probate" proceedings may be required in those other states, depending on how the property was owned. These extra hurdles can be avoided by some simple planning ahead.

3. Simplified California Probate Procedures May Be Available to Transfer Property Quickly

For property that did not have a beneficiary designation or was not in a living trust, there may be "simplified probate" procedures or "small estate affidavit" procedures in California for transferring certain kinds of property at death, which can avoid the cost and time of a full-blown court-supervised probate proceeding.


Small Estate Procedures in California: Many states allow simplified procedures for small estates and certain kinds of property which can be transferred by a simple affidavit procedure if the value of the estate falls under a certain limit.

Property Transfer Affidavits: Most states have quick procedures for transferring property valued less than a certain amount, if all the heirs agree.

In California, there is an Affidavit procedure available as long as the personal property does not exceed $184,000. There's a 40-day waiting period. Cal. Prob. Code 13050.

There's also an Affidavit procedure that you can use if you have real property worth less than $50,000 (of which there is not much in the Golden State); there's a six month waiting period for this. Cal. Prob. Code 13200 and following.

 You can also use an Affidavit to collect up to $15,000 of salary and other compensation (including unused vacation time) owed to the deceased spouse. Cal. Prob. Code 13600.

There's also a summary probate procedure that's available for estates worth less than $150,000. This dollar value doesn't count real property outside of California, property that passes by joint tenancy, property left outright to a surviving spouse, life insurance or other assets that pass by beneficiary designation, and property held in living trusts. Cal. Prob. Code 13150 and following.


Need Professional Help? Talk to a Probate Attorney

Want help handling your duties as an executor of a California estate? Connect with a California probate lawyer from the Nolo/Martindale network.


4. Even if there's no will, someone needs to start the probate process when someone dies

Regardless of the size of the estate, someone needs to start the probate process within a certain period after someone dies. If you were named the executor in the will, you are that person.

If there is no will, or no executor was named in the will, the court will appoint someone to be responsible for filing the necessary documents to complete the process of paying debts and taxes and funeral expenses from the estate and distributing property to beneficiaries.

If you are a beneficiary of a small estate, you may be able to claim your inheritance with a simple affidavit. (If there is no will,  beneficiaries are determined by the "intestate succession" laws in the state where the person is a resident.) 

Wills & Intestacy

  • Wills: What are they? Do I need one? What if someone dies without one?
    • Naming an executor.
    • Appointing guardians and property managers for minor children
    • Specifying how debts should be paid
  • No Will? Who Inherits if a Spouse or Parent Dies Without a Will in California

5. Death & Taxes: Most estates do not need to file an estate tax return, but there are other kinds of year-end taxes to be paid when someone dies

Unless an estate is worth more than $13,610,000, it will not need to file a Federal estate tax return.



6. Creditors and taxes must be paid before you can inherit assets

  • The estate always must pay taxes before any other creditors can get paid. 
  • Debts that are secured by property, like mortages, are called secured debts, because if someone doesn't pay the loan, the lender can take the property. If you inherit a house, you also inherit the mortgage.
  • Unsecured debts, like credit cards, don't work that way -- as a beneficiary you are not responsible for that debt,
  • But the estate needs to pay all known creditors before distributing property to beneficiaries and heirs. Otherwise, a creditor can come calling to get paid back from estate assets, even after they've been distributed.
  • Most states have some sort of protection from creditors in the form of a “family allowance” and/or a homestead exemption


Bakersfield, CA
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Avoid Probate
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