Couple looking through forms trying to figure out California probate bond guidelines.

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California Probate Bond Guidelines - What You Need to Know

What is a probate bond in California and how does it work? Trust & Will explains what you need to know about California probate bonds.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

A probate bond is a court-mandated bond that helps protect an estate. They are often required of estate Administrators, Executors, Conservators, and Guardians during the probate process. Each state’s probate court system requires bonds. However, the specific requirements, costs, and rules can vary from state to state. Here are the probate bond California guidelines.

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What is a probate bond California? 

A California probate bond is a type of fiduciary bond used in a court probate process regarding an estate. A California court typically orders a nominated Administrator, Executor, Conservator, or Guardian to obtain the probate bond before they will officially appoint the individual to the role. 

The purpose of the bond is to protect a California-based estate and its beneficiaries, including creditors, instead of the fiduciary. The bond is issued on the performance of the Executor or Administrator in case they cause harm through negligence, malfeasance, or mismanagement.

To demonstrate what could happen in the absence of a probate bond, let’s say that a California probate court appoints an Executor to an estate without the requirement of a bond. (An Administrator in the absence of a Will.) Later, the heirs discover that the Executor had misappropriated estate funds for their personal benefit. Because no bond was in place, they have no recourse for recovering the funds that were stolen.

Instead, if the court had ordered the issue of a bond, then the heirs could file a complaint with the surety, the company that issued the bond. The surety company would conduct an investigation, and if the claims are found to be true, then the damages would be repaid.

Probate bonds are an important and necessary protection mechanism in the California probate process.

How much does a probate bond cost in California?

The cost of a probate bond in California varies based on the amount of coverage being required by the court. This amount is typically determined using the total dollar value of the estate that the Executor or Administrator is appointed to manage. Keep in mind that an estate can include real estate, which can significantly increase the bond amount needed.

Luckily, the individual purchasing the bond will not have to cover the total coverage provided by the bond. Instead, they pay a fee that is a small percentage of the estate value. The typical rates are roughly 0.5 to 0.8 percent of the total bond amount required.

For example, an estate valued at $20,000 or less can be covered by a bond that costs roughly $100 to $150 to purchase. In contrast, the bond fee of a $2 million estate could be $10,000 or more. 

Second, different surety companies offer different premiums. The individual purchasing the bond has the freedom to shop around to find the lowest possible premium offered by surety companies in the state of California.

How do you calculate probate bond in California?

According to California Probate Code §8482, the probate court has the discretion to fix the amount of the bond. However, there are some general guidelines on how to calculate a California probate bond.

The total amount of the bond should not be more than the sum of: the estimated value of the personal property held by the estate; the estimated gross annual income of the estate; the estimated value of any real property held in the estate.

In other words, the total bond amount is usually calculated by finding out the total value of the estate, including estimated values of real property, personal property, and income-producing assets.

Is a bond required in California for probate?

Per California Probate Code §8480 - 8488, a probate bond is generally required for personal representatives of estates. 

“Except as otherwise provided by statute, every person appointed as personal representative shall give a surety bond to be approved by the court. If two or more persons are appointed, then the court may require either a separate bond from each or a joint and several personal representative bond."

However, the probate code also specifies exceptions. The most common exception occurs when the Will includes a statement waiving the requirement. The beneficiaries of an estate can also collaboratively waive the bond requirement in writing. They must attach this petition to waive the requirement for the appointment of the personal representative (the Executor.) 

How long does it take to get a probate bond in California?

Obtaining a probate bond in California does not take long. It is a matter of selecting the surety company that you’d like to work with, filling out the application, and submitting any requested documents. In some cases, you may need to speak with a representative to review your application. Many surety companies offer same-day approvals.

Learn more about how long it takes to get a probate bond by reading our full guide. 

How do I get a probate bond in California?

Before you get a probate bond California, you’ll first want to establish the necessity of obtaining one. You should first be made aware that you’ve been nominated to serve in a fiduciary role for an estate. It’s best practice for the Testator (the person who wrote the Will) to have a conversation with you and ask if you’re willing to serve as an Executor, Guardian, Conservator, or the like before they formally nominate you. This way, you won’t be surprised later on. However, there are often cases when this information doesn’t surface until the Testator passes away. There are also cases in which the decedent did not have a Will in place, but you are a close relative and feel that it is your duty to step up to manage the estate.

In either case, when the individual passes away, a personal representative of the estate must file a petition to open probate. They would do so by visiting their local court and filing the petition, a copy of the death certificate, and a copy of the Will if applicable. Then, the court will issue you with an order to obtain a probate bond, along with the required coverage amount. You must provide proof of coverage before they will officially appoint you to the fiduciary role.

Next, contact the surety company of your choosing and apply for your probate bond. You’ll typically fill out an application, after which the company will conduct a credit check. Here, they are ensuring that your creditworthiness is commensurate with the size of the bond. Once approved, you’ll be provided with the bond paperwork to submit to the court.

If you are someone who is preparing your Will, it’s important to be aware of the probate bond requirement. Although your nominated Executor can get reimbursed for the bond fee by the estate, it is still a financial responsibility to consider. It is best practice and good etiquette to contact the individual you have in mind and ensure that they are willing to take on this role, and to ensure that they understand that they will have to purchase a bond in order to fulfill their duties. If your chosen Executor is absolutely trustworthy, you may choose to include a waiver clause in your Will. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

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