Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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What Is A Probate Referee In California Probate?

By Andrew Gold, Esq.

A probate referee in a California probate is someone appointed by the court to appraise or value a decedent’s property.

To become a probate referee, you are required to pass an examination administered by the State of California.  A probate referee also undergoes annual continuing education.

When Is A Probate Referee Required?

A personal representative of a California estate is generally required to use a probate referee to appraise probate assets that the personal representative cannot.   Sometimes a probate referee is required in certain small estate administrations.  If an estate is solely made up of cash, then a probate referee is not needed.  See Inventory and Appraisal in California Probate.

The court can waive an appraisal by a probate referee upon a showing of good cause.  See California Probate Code § 8903. Generally, people will request such a waiver to save money.  However, the requests are not commonly granted and often do not end up saving money for the estate.

How Much Does A Probate Referee Cost?

A probate referee is entitled to a fee from the estate that equals .001% of the total assets appraised by the probate referee.  The probate referee is also entitled to actual and necessary expenses for each estate appraised.  See California Probate Code § 8961.

The minimum fee for a probate referee is $75, and the maximum fee is $10,000.  Pursuant to California Probate Code § 8963, the probate referee can apply to the court to be allowed a greater commission in excess of $10,000.  The court may grant the request if the court determines that the reasonable value of the referee’s services exceeds that amount.


How Does the Probate Referee Know What To Appraise?

As part of the duties of the personal representative, the personal representative provides the probate referee with the inventory of property that the probate referee needs to appraise.   The personal representative ideally has already marshalled the assets of the estate and will know the items that require the expertise of the probate referee.

How Long Does The Probate Referee Take To Appraise Estate Property?

The probate referee is required to promptly and with reasonable diligence appraise the property designated by the personal representative.  Pursuant to California Probate Code § 8940:

The probate referee shall, not later than 60 days after delivery of the inventory, do one of the following:

(1) Return the completed appraisal to the personal representative.

(2) Make a report of the status of the appraisal. The report shall show the reason why the property has not been appraised and an estimate of the time needed to complete the appraisal. The report shall be delivered to the personal representative and filed with the court.

Can A Probate Referee Be Removed By The California Probate Court?

Yes.  Pursuant to California Probate Code § 8924, the California probate court shall remove the designated probate referee in any of the following circumstances:

  • The personal representative shows cause, including incompetence or undue delay in making the appraisal, that in the opinion of the court warrants removal of the probate referee. The showing shall be made at a hearing on petition of the personal representative. The personal representative shall deliver pursuant to Section 1215 notice of the hearing on the petition to the probate referee at least 15 days before the date set for the hearing.
  • The personal representative has the right to remove the first probate referee who is designated by the court. Cause need not be shown for removal under this paragraph. The personal representative may exercise the right at any time before the personal representative delivers the inventory to the probate referee. The personal representative shall exercise the right by filing an affidavit or declaration under penalty of perjury with the court and delivering a copy to the probate referee pursuant to Section 1215. Thereupon, the court shall remove the probate referee without any further act or proof.
  • Any other cause provided by statute.




Andrew S. Gold, Esq.

Probate & Trust Litigation

Hourly & Contingency Fees Available

(650) 450-9600