5 minute read

Guide to Buying Probate Property in California

Considering buying probate property in the state of California? Check out our guide to the process and get other helpful tips for a probate sale in California.

Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell, @MitchMitchell

Product Counsel, Legal, Trust & Will

When an individual passes away, their property and assets often pass through probate before it can be distributed to their beneficiaries. (There are certain exceptions, such as assets with beneficiary designations or assets that are placed in a Trust.) There are some instances when the probate court determines that probate property must be sold, such as when the estate must pay back debt. 

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Probate property, when sold, can be a great deal for buyers. This is because probate property is often sold under market value to encourage the speed of the transaction. If you are interested in buying property in California, be sure to keep reading about this unique topic: probate sale in California.

Can I buy a house in probate in California?

Yes, you can buy a home that is on sale as a result of the probate process in California. Real estate prices can be egregiously high in certain parts of the Golden State, meaning finding probate homes for sale isn’t a bad strategy. Homes being sold through the probate process are often listed for under-market value. This is because if an estate is required to liquidate assets, they typically need to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Buying a probate house is perfectly legal in California. The California probate code allows the sale of property, including real estate, with court permission. This is so long as the seller is the properly court-appointed Executor or Administrator of the estate at the beginning of the probate process. Under the Independent Administration of Estates Act (IAEA), an Executor or Administrator with full authority can often sell the property in question without much court involvement or oversight. Otherwise, the probate sale requires additional steps including court approval.

How is probate property sold in California? 

Identifying a probate property sale is a great way to buy a home for under-market value in California. But how does this work? Most probate property sales in California are sold through one of the five traditional avenues: a real estate agency, a private sale, a public auction, a private auction, or through a Trust department.

Here is an explanation of each of these methods:

  • Real Estate Agency: The most common way of selling probate property is through a real estate agent, just like with any other type of traditional real estate listing. The Executor or Administrator is typically responsible for finding and selecting a real estate agent or broker. If you need help, a probate attorney can typically make recommendations. The appointed Executor or Administrator has full autonomy to select the agency that they think would best represent the property.

  • Private Sale: A probate property can also be sold through a private sale. These are often published in newspapers, while the process is administered by the probate attorney. Bids are placed confidentially with the attorney at a set date and time. The attorney then evaluates all of the bids and then grants the sale to the highest or best bidder.

  • Public Auction: Another method of selling estate property is through an auction. This is especially beneficial when the property is valuable, or you have an interest in driving up the sale price. There are two types of auctions: public and private. Public auctions are announced in newspapers and are hosted at a set date and time. Bidders submit their bids verbally. The public nature of the auction can create a competitive atmosphere, thus often driving up bids. The sale is awarded to the highest bidder.

  • Private Auction: Private auctions are different from public auctions in that they are hosted by auction companies. This includes a premium service in which the auction company is responsible for marketing the auction, appraising items, and portraying the items for sale in the best light possible. The individual with the highest bid is awarded the sale.

  • Trust Department: The final, but certainly not the least, method of selling a probate property is through a Trust Department, which is an office of the California state government. The department can act as a personal representative of the estate and sell the property in question. 

What to know before buying probate property in California

Before you commit to buying probate property in California, you should go into the process equipped with knowledge. It’s important to understand the benefits, but also the potential disadvantages. 

One of the key attractions associated with buying probate property is the prospect of buying property below market value. Property is often being sold at a reduced price because of how long the process can take. If you are looking to fix and flip property, then doing your research and buying probate property could be a great way to make a profit.

However, you should also know about the potential cons. While you can certainly find probate property that is being sold for under-market value, there are also risks. First, probate property is typically sold in as-is condition. If the property has not been maintained well, then you’ll be responsible for fixing issues. You typically can’t demand contingencies and other conditions with a probate sale. Second, you won’t have a way of holding the previous owner liable for maintenance or repair issues, as they are deceased. If you discover any issues after you purchased the property, then you are on your own.

Note that while some probate properties are sold through a traditional process, such as through a real estate agency, others are sold through an auction. Bidding on a probate property can be competitive, thus making the price unpredictable. Further, court auctions might have certain policies you must abide by. For instance, California courts often require a 10 percent deposit before you can bid on a property. 

The length of the probate process is also something to take into consideration. Even if you are successful in bidding for a probate property, you still have to wait until the court closes out the probate process for this particular estate. If the probate process takes a year to complete, you’ll have to wait that long while the court determines if any taxes are owed and ultimately closes the probate process.

Last but not least, disputes and claims regarding a decedent’s estate can sometimes arise. This could potentially lead to property sales being delayed or even canceled. If a Will is contested by a family, they can fight it in court and claim their rights to the property. If they win, the sale cannot take place.

While the potential disadvantages outweigh the possible advantages in number, it does not necessarily mean that you should stay away from probate sales. There is some risk and uncertainty involved, but it’s a gamble that could result in your buying an amazing property at a reduced price. This type of stress and uncertainty may not be worth it if you are looking to buy your forever home, but could be a great option if you’re looking for an investment property and aren’t tied to strict timelines or outcomes. 

Probate disclosure laws in California

When dealing with probate property in California, you must understand the disclosure laws. All homes, including mobile homes, are required by law to adhere to agency disclosure regulations. This is true if the piece of real property is going to be subject to a sale, a trade, a contract, or at least that will last for a year or more. This agency disclosure law still applies if the property is being sold as a result of the probate process.

First, you’ll need to know about the Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS). This is an essential disclosure document in the state of California. The personal representative (Executor) is exempt from this particular ruling to present a TDS to home buyers. This exemption will not prevent the personal representative from disclosing all information about the property’s value and market advantages.

Simultaneously, personal representatives are required by law to disclose any information they have about the property by using an Exempt Seller Disclosure form. If you feel like this is confusing, you’re not alone. California probate exemptions are arguably one of the most confusing sets of rules and policies within the state probate code. The TDS exemption is applicable if there isn’t any awareness that the property is being sold through probate. Excluding these exemptions, probate sales taking place in California must abide by any and all disclosure laws by the state. It is often best to consult a real estate or probate attorney on such matters to understand your rights. protect yourself as much as possible.

How can I find probate property in California? 

If you find the advantages of buying probate property in California appealing (and aren’t scared off by the potential drawbacks), then you are likely wondering about the next steps. The first step would be to learn how you can find and locate probate properties that are being sold in California, such as through real estate listings, auctions and probate sales. 

Here is a helpful list:

  1. Search for probate real estate listings online, such as through real estate agency websites and listing sites such as

  2. Contact your real estate agent to find out if they work with any probate listings, and if not, if they have any referrals.

  3. Peruse newspapers, including real estate and law newspapers to find probate real estate announcements.

  4. Search through auctioneer and auction house websites to search for probate sale events.

  5. Visit the California Trust department website to find out about probate listings and sales.

If you are considering buying a probate property, it’s recommended that you work with a real estate agent or attorney. It’s especially helpful to team up with a professional who is experienced in this area. This is because the process of bidding on probate property is different from submitting offers on a traditional home sale. They can support you by helping you understand the process, how to place a proper bid, negotiations, and familiarizing yourself with the necessary laws and rights.

Update your estate plan today

Buying probate property in California might be something you want to consider because it’s an opportunity to buy property below the average market value. Probate properties are often sold at a reduced price because the timing may sometimes be more important than the final sale price. Further, the probate process takes longer, thus making probate property undesirable to buyers who need a home yesterday.

Before buying probate property, be sure to understand the advantages and disadvantages. Some of the probate property sale rules are very complicated and difficult to understand, so working with a real estate agent or attorney who has expertise in this area is a smart move. 

If you purchase property, it’s a great reminder to keep your own estate plan up-to-date to make sure that it’s properly protected. Trust & Will can help you with that! You can create a fully customizable, state-specific Estate Plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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