Probate Versus Non-Probate Assets in California Estates

A deceased person leaves behind many types of assets upon death, but not all of them are subject to California’s probate laws. Certain types of non-probate property can pass to another individual due to how they were owned by the decedent or because they are designated to pass by operation of law. An estate planning and administration lawyer can tell you more about the differences as they apply to your unique situation, but an overview of probate and non-probate assets may help you understand how California law works.


Probate Assets

Any real estate or personal property that the decedent owned individually, i.e., in his or her own name upon passing, is included in this category. Probate assets may include tangible items like a home, vacation residence, car, boat, jewelry, art, collections, furniture, household goods, and many other belongings. Plus, there are likely intangible assets as well, including checking and savings accounts, stocks, interests in a business, and similar items.

Non-Probate Assets


Property that is not owned individually by the decedent may be a non-probate asset by operation of law. Real estate is a common non-probate asset because it may be held jointly with right of survivorship, which means the deceased person’s interest passes to the surviving owners when one dies – completely outside the probate process.

Other non-probate assets include bank accounts or life insurance policies that include a beneficiary designation. This tactic is often used in estate planning where an individual includes a “pay on death” clause or beneficiary designation, to keep the asset outside the probate process.

Note that any property owned by a living trust is a non-probate asset as well. With this type of estate planning structure, a person transfers ownership and titles the asset in the name of the trust. The individual can enjoy the benefits of the asset, but technically does not own the legal title of the trust asset i– neither during his or her lifetime, nor upon death.

Consult with a Probate and Estate Administration Attorney

This general overview of the types of assets in a deceased person’s estate may be helpful, but it’s no substitute for the advice and counsel of an experienced probate attorney. A lawyer can review the specifics of your circumstances and tell you more about your options regarding probate and non-probate assets. Attorney Charles D. Stark has extensive experience assisting clients with estate planning and various probate matters, so please contact our office for more information. Our legal team serves clients in Santa Rosa, CA and throughout Sonoma County.


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