Estate Inventory Checklist: How to Organize Assets for Probate

Whether you’re preparing your estate plan or administering a loved one’s will, an estate inventory is crucial. These documents are vital to the probate process. Leaving items out can have significant consequences, especially for high-value estates. 

However, drafting a comprehensive inventory can seem overwhelming at first. Here’s why these lists matter so much and a checklist you can follow to ensure you haven’t left anything out. 

What Is a Probate Inventory?

A probate estate inventory is a document that lists all of a decedent’s assets and debts that are obligated to go through probate. It must also include the valuation of all assets and debts. Typically, the list is produced by the executor or administrator, but people may create them when drafting or updating their estate plans to provide their loved ones with a clear starting point. 

California law requires the executor to provide a comprehensive inventory before probate can continue. This list gives the court a clear breakdown of all matters involved in the decedent’s estate. It also provides the decedent’s heirs a better understanding of the debts that must be paid before assets are distributed. Finally, it ensures that no property or debts are missed that should have been addressed during the probate process. 

Checklist: What to Include in Your Probate Inventory

The entire point of a probate inventory is to be a comprehensive list of liabilities and assets. Property and accounts to look for include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Money market funds and certificates of deposit.
  • Safety deposit boxes
  • Investments like brokerage accounts, HSAs, IRAs, and college savings funds
  • Retirement funds and pension plans
  • Business interests
  • Real property like homes and investment properties
  • Insurance policies
  • Annuities
  • Intellectual property, including trademarks, patents, and copyrights
  • Vehicles
  • Collections, such as art, antiques, or coins
  • Personal effects and household items
  • Mortgages
  • Personal and vehicle loans
  • Private student loans
  • Credit cards
  • Unpaid medical bills
  • Home Equity Lines of Credit
  • Unpaid taxes
  • Outstanding debts

For every item on this list, the inventory should name where the asset or liability is held, its worth, and its current ownership status. Things like trusts do not need to be included in the inventory, though. Property within a trust belongs to that trust until it vests or is disbursed to beneficiaries.

Ideally, everyone would maintain an updated list of these items with their estate plan. However, this is not always the case. Even if an inventory is included with other plan documents, an executor should still take care to check the decedent’s credit report and follow up with lenders and state agencies to confirm that nothing has been missed. 

Taking inventory of a loved one’s belongings is often one of the probate process’s most emotional and time-consuming parts. However, it does not have to be done alone. Administrators and executors can work with experienced estate administration attorneys to streamline the process and reduce the risk that the inventory is incomplete. 

Appraising Estate Assets

A critical aspect of the inventory is asset valuation. All items on the list must be accompanied by an accurate estimate of their fair market value. This information is how the value of the estate is calculated. 

Calculating the value of liquid assets, financial investments, and debts is relatively simple. They already have a clear monetary value attached. However, other items like real property, vehicles, and collectibles are harder to evaluate. Administrators must be prepared to support their property valuations for these assets should the court have questions. 

The best practice is to work with an experienced professional to have these assets appraised. The appraisal should include the fair market value of each item and the appraiser’s reasoning for their conclusion. This approach reduces the likelihood of disputes later in the probate process by providing clear and reasonable evidence for the administrator’s decisions regarding the estate. 

Get Help Preparing Estate Inventories in California

Whether you are preparing your estate plan or handling a loved one’s will, you’ll need to create a comprehensive inventory. You can simplify the process by working with a skilled estate planning and administration attorney like those at The Dayton Law Firm P.C. Our experienced team has spent decades helping California families with all their estate needs. We can help you list and value assets and debts according to state probate requirements. Schedule your consultation with our experts today to discover how we can help you.