Decedents Estates

Decedents’ Estates

“Decedent’s estate” is a formal way of referring to property left when a person dies. The “decedent” is the person who has died, and their “estate” is the property they owned at the time of death.  In California, a decedent’s estate can be distributed in one of three ways: as a “small estate” under $100,000; in probate court as an independent probate proceeding (when the decedent left a will naming an executor); or in probate court as a court-supervised estate (when the decedent did not leave a will or name an executor).

What is the procedure if there is a will?

If the decedent left a will, it usually names a person to be the personal representative of the estate, called an “executor.” Unless the will expressly prohibits the procedures authorized by the California Independent Administration of Estates Act (a rare occurrence), the executor is responsible for conducting an inventory and accounting; distribution of the estate’s assets; and paying the estate’s debts and taxes. This is known as an “independent probate proceeding” because the executor has full authority over the estate and can make decisions without court supervision.

What if the decedent left no will or the will did not name an executor?

If there is no will, the probate court will appoint an administrator. If there is a will but it does not name an executor, the court will appoint an “administrator with will annexed.” Like the executor, the administrator is responsible for completing all the requirements to distribute the assets of the estate, with one important distinction: the administrator has only limited authority in carrying out the administration of the decedent’s estate and requires court approval before undertaking certain actions. This type of proceeding is known as a “court-supervised estate.”

You may also wish to consult these related Legal Resource and Step-by-Step Guides:

Small Estate Affidavits
Elder Law
Living Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Advance Health Care Directives
Power of Attorney
Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning


These books are highly regarded “plain English” explanations of the law, written by attorneys or other legal experts.  They include basic legal discussion and procedures, forms with instructions, and models of other documents that may be required. Many of the books have CDs that supplement the text and provide interactive forms. You can find all of these titles, and more, in the Library’s Self Help Collection on the First Floor.

How to Probate an Estate in California KFC 205 .Z9 N57
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Nolo Ebooks.

Probate and Settle an Estate in California KFC 205 .G63


California legal encyclopedias and law summaries provide a summary of California law on specific topics, including decedents’ estates. These materials include references to applicable statutes and cases. Attorneys and people representing themselves may find these resources useful.

California Jurisprudence (Cal Jur) Third KFC 80 .C35
Decedents’ Estate topics include “Ancillary Proceedings,” “Jurisdiction,” “Admission of Will to Probate,” and “Property Subject to Administration.”
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Westlaw.

Summary of California Law 10th Edition KFC 80.W57
The “Wills and Probate” chapter includes “Intestate Succession,” “Probate Administration,” and “Independent Administration of Estates Act.”
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Westlaw.


Although practice guides are written for attorneys, people representing themselves may also find these resources useful. These materials provide more detailed information than the self-help books.

Handling a Probate: Here’s How and When to Do It KFC 205 .E44
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using OnLAW.

California Decedent Estate Practice KFC 210 .C36
[Includes FORMS in the book and on an accompanying CD]
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using OnLAW.

California Probate Practice KFC 205 .A6 C2

California Probate Workflow Manual KFC 205 .C34
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using OnLAW.

California Practice Guide: Probate KFC 205 .A65 R6
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Westlaw.

California Civil Practice: Probate and Trust Proceedings KFC 205 .A6 B36
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Westlaw.

Transferring property without Probate: Here’s How and When to Do ItKFC 195 .Q55
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using OnLAW.


Formbooks contain samples and examples of documents and forms used in probate proceedings. Some formbooks include copies of completed documents and forms to provide guidance for completing these papers.

California Code Forms: Probate KFC 30.W482
Electronic Access:  On the law library computers, using Westlaw.

Law Office Procedures Manual KFC 77 .L44
Chapter J, “Probate.”

Nolo’s Law Form Kit: Wills KF 755 .A9 C5

California Judicial Council forms are available:

Sacramento County Local Forms are available:

Selected forms are available on our website:



(A) Statutes
The California Probate Code governs probate proceedings in California. The Probate Code is available at the library in annotated form (includes summaries of cases interpreting probate laws) and un-annotated form (includes only the laws). An un-annotated version of the Probate Code is also freely available on the Internet from the California State Legislature’s website at

(B) Court Rules
Probate proceedings in California are governed by the California Rules of Court. Most California counties also have local probate court rules.

California State Court rules are available on the Internet at the California State Courts website at Title Seven contains the Probate Rules (Rules 7.1 – 7.1101).

Sacramento County probate court rules are available at  Check each county’s Superior Court website for that county’s local probate rules.  You can find your county’s Superior Court website here:



Deceased Taxpayer FAQs
A concise guide published by the California Franchise Tax Board.

Decedents’ Estates
Available on the Sacramento County Superior Court website, this publication offers an overview of local probate procedures.

How to Probate a Decedent’s Estate
A step-by-step guide offered on the Santa Clara County Superior Court website.

Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes
A brief overview of estate and gift taxes published by the IRS.

Obtaining Probate Records
Local procedures for obtaining probate records offered by the Sacramento County Superior Court.

Leave a Reply