Keeping it Simple Series: The [Probate] Referee Blows the Whistle.
Everyone knows what a referee is. Every sport has one. But a referee in probate court? Yes. He or she doesn't have a whistle, but their service is crucial to the administration of estates. In fact, it is required by law. A probate referee is required to be licensed (Probate Code 400-408) and abides by rules prescribed by the California Probate Code.
When someone dies and their estate requires administration in probate (i.e. when someone dies without a Living Trust) all the decedent's non-cash assets must be appraised by a court appointed probate referee. California Probate Code sections 8800, 8802, 8902, 8940 set forth what types of assets must be appraised by a referee. As a general rule, all non-cash assets, such as tangible personal property, stock accounts, and real estate, must be appraised by the referee.
The referee takes a small percentage of the estate's appraised value (no less than $75 and no more than $10,000 in total compensation). The referee can also charge for expenses and mileage. (Probate Code sections 8960-8964).
The referee's role is important, as the estate cannot be finalized and distributed if the referee did not properly appraise all estate assets. The appraised value is the value at the date of death of the decedent. (Probate Code 8802).
If you are attempting to handle a probate on your own, make sure to communicate with the assigned probate referee in order to avoid any unnecessary delays in administration. And always remember, establishing a Living Trust can avoid Probate!
Blog Contributor: Vincenzo S. Giarratano, Esq. Of Counsel in Estate Planning