For most Californians, their house is their single biggest asset. But most people do not take the basic step of protecting that asset in the event of their death. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they do not need an estate plan because they have a big mortgage on the house. If you own a house in California, you need an estate plan–even if you owe a substantial amount on your mortgage.

The value of your house is based on the fair market value, regardless of any amount you owe on the house

Here is what happens to your house, and what your heirs will need to pay, if you die without an estate plan. Your estate goes into probate. An executor, a probate attorney, and a probate referee will be hired or appointed. The probate referee appraises your house. The value of your house is based on the fair market value, regardless of any amount you owe on the house. In the words of the California Probate Code, value is determined “without reference to encumbrances or other obligations on estate property.” Ca. Prob. Code 10810(b).

Before the title of your house can pass to your heirs, Probate Court filing fees, the executor, the probate attorney, and the probate referee all need to be paid. All of those fees are set by statute. The filing fee is a set amount, but the other fees are based on percentages of the appraised value of your property.

Example: Probate Fees for $500,000 house, appraised value

Let’s take for example the probate costs on a house appraised at $500,000. The filing fee is $435.00. The probate referee gets .01% of the appraised value of the property. The executor and the attorney, by statute, each gets 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate, 3% of the next $100,000, and 2% of the next $800,000.  Again, these percentages are all calculated on the gross fair market value, with no reference to any amounts that may be owed:


Filing fee ……………………………….. $435.00

                        Probate Referee ……………………… $500.00

                        Executor fees ……………………… $13,000.00

                        Attorney fees ……………………… $13,000.00

                        TOTAL ………………………………. $26,935.00


If the fair market value of your house is $800,000, the total jumps to over $39,000 just for the value of the house. In addition to your house, everything you own will be inventoried, and that inventory will be filed as a public record with the Probate Court.

For most folks this will mean the house will have to be sold to pay probate fees. And, your heirs will have to go through a complete loss of privacy and a lot of headache to even get to that point.

Estate Planning gives you control—and saves assets for your heirs

An estate plan customized to suit your family’s needs costs much less, a mere fraction of those amounts. It allows you to control what becomes of your property. Plus, the paperwork after your death will be minimal, there will be no need to file anything with the probate court, and your personal business and finances remain private.

Give me a call at 707-937-2701, and let’s get started on a plan to provide peace of mind to you, and security for your family.

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