CA Small Estate Affidavit Stands Up In The Big State Of Texas

CA Probate Code Sections 13100 et seq – affidavit/declaration procedures for small estates

California probate law has provisions that allow for the collection of personal property (including assets such as stocks, bonds, bank accounts, or money market funds) without requiring formal probate proceedings.  Instead, an affidavit and a declaration are signed and presented to the holder of these types of assets —  a bank or a brokerage firm — requesting the transfer of the account to another party.

California Probate Code Sections 13100 – 13116 allow requests of banks and other financial institutions (“holder of funds”) to distribute, without probate administration, assets of relatively small value not to exceed $150,000 (gross value of all real and personal property owned by the decedent in California on the date of death.) These simplified procedures are beneficial to some consumers – saving money and time.  Since the procedures do not require oversight by a court, the law also provides protection for the financial institutions to prevent the institution from being caught in middle between multiple property claimants.

If the estate qualifies, anyone entitled to inherit property from the decedent, whether as a beneficiary under the will or as an heir under intestate succession
laws, may obtain title or possession of the property with these abbreviated transfer procedures. (Probate Code § 13006.)

Di Angelo v. Wells Fargo Bank

A recent (April 29, 2016) opinion from the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit involved just such a situation as described above.  The appeal arose from a case in Texas federal district court.

Sequoia Di Angelo v. Wells Fargo Bank, National Association; Giovannina Cantale, No. 15-20520.  Full text of the opinion here –

The background of this case involved a death of a father and son while mountain climbing and the father’s will which left any US bank assets to his surviving children.  The surviving child sued Wells Fargo Bank as the father’s Texas bank accounts had been closed from a California bank branch post-death by another family member.  The court stated in its opinion:

Given the applicability of California law, there is no genuine dispute of material fact.  Section 13106(a) discharges the holder of funds “from any further liability with respect to the money or property” upon receipt of an affidavit conforming to the requirements of Sections 13100 through 13104 of the California Probate Code. “The holder may rely in good faith on the statements in the affidavit or declaration and has no duty to inquire into the truth of any statement in the affidavit or declaration.”  Cal. Probate Code § 13106(a).

The Court went on to find that “[i]f Di Angelo has indeed been injured, she must proceed directly against the person to whom Wells Fargo disbursed the money, namely, her step-mother.[1] What Di Angelo seeks—to have Wells Fargo make a double payment, once to her and once to her stepmother—is precisely what California law denies.”

NOLO’s How to Probate an Estate in California

Before starting this process, a party will want to do research to learn the specifics for the procedures.  A good source is Julia Nissley’s  How to Probate an Estate in California (NOLO), Chapter 11, “Transferring Small Estates Under $150,000.”  This chapter includes an overview of the simplified transfer procedure for small estates, how to determine whether to use summary procedures, and how to transfer the property like personal property and real property.  Templates for an affidavit can be found in  a number of places including — ACLL’s Forms page or by searching the How to Probate title on the NOLO/EBSCO database accessed from ACLL’s Legal Databases page. Or here –

The paper version of the 2016 edition of the title (Self Help KFC 205 Z9 N57 2016) is available at our Oakland location.  The 2013 edition is available at our Hayward location and the Dublin Public Library satellite collection.  Many local public libraries have the NOLO titles within their collections.

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