The Probate Process: When to Hire an Appraiser

You must go through the probate process if a loved one leaves a will with enough property to warrant the full probate process. If the total value of the estate is less than $150,000, then you generally will not need to go through probate in California. Instead, smaller estates can go through a faster, more streamlined probate process.

Valuing the estate is an important part of the probate process. Without a proper valuation, the executor or personal representative will not be able to distribute property as the decedent intended in many situations. Determining the cash value of an estate will permit the personal representative to provide an efficient distribution.

California courts require that the executor file a comprehensive inventory of the estate assets. This list must include valuations for all of the property. This is where an appraiser would be helpful and may even be necessary.

Probate Referees and the Appraisal Process

An appraiser will value the property in an estate. In California, these individuals are known as probate referees. These people will evaluate non-cash assets of an estate.

Not every estate will require the use of a probate referee. Some estate assets can be appraised by the personal representative while other property must use the services of a probate referee. Assets that can be assessed by the personal representative include:

  • Cash
  • Refund checks
  • Money market funds
  • Money in brokerage accounts
  • Insurance policies
  • Retirement plans
  • Annuities payable in lump sum amounts

The remaining property must be presented to the probate referee for evaluation. Some estates may not have any additional property, and, if that is the case, the probate referee’s services are not necessary.

Who Are Probate Referees?

Probate referees are appraisers that are qualified by undergoing strict educational and testing requirements. They are appointed by the California State Controller’s Office for each county in California. Probate referees will often value items such as:

  • Real estate
  • Home furnishings
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Automobiles
  • Business-related property
  • Collectibles
  • Mutual funds

When the personal representative is appointed, the Probate Court will also designate the specific probate referee that should be used for that particular estate. The probate referee must be used in most circumstances, but his or her services are not free. Instead, the fees will be 1/10th of one percent of the value of the property that is appraised by the referee. The minimum fee is $75.00, and the maximum is $10,000.

When to Get an Expert

In some circumstances, the decedent may hold uniquely valuable property, such as antiques or works of art. In those cases, you may want to hire an independent expert to value the property so that it is as accurate as possible. While probate referees have extensive knowledge and training, they may not have as much experience with unique pieces as another type of independent appraiser.

Hiring a separate appraiser may be a good idea if the decedent has property that may include:

  • Coin collections
  • Antique furniture
  • Automobile collection
  • Unique art pieces

If you are unsure, it is better to err on the side of getting an appraiser so that the value is as close to accurate as possible.

Getting Help with Valuing Property

Inventorying property and determining its value can be one of the most challenging aspects of being an executor. Biddle Law can assist you through this process, so you fulfill your obligations as a personal representative to the best of your ability.