Salton Sea real estate and California probate

I recently was contacted by a potential client trying to clear up title to land in Imperial County, California. When I looked it up I realized it was at, and appears to be beach front, at the Salton Sea.  Living in California for over 50 years I have heard of this place but never actually been there. Though I won’t have to go there to attend court as all California probate courts allow telephonic (i.e. Zoom, Bluejeans, etc…) appearances but it got me looking into the history of the Salton Sea.

At one point it was thought it could be a resort destination like Lake Tahoe or Lake Arrowhead.  It never got there but it was, at one point, a resort with hotels, restaurants, etc…. Check out photos and history online!  That’s not the point of my blog. Here’s a good article for a start!  Into the early 1960’s it was still a resort destination.  My understanding is that now it’s a lot closer to being totally dried up than a beach resort.  Here’s another good article with some great photos!  Here’s a good blog post with some cool pictures of the resort Yacht club.

So how does this once popular resort relate to the California probate process? Well, there is real estate there and, in California, to transfer real estate after death generally requires a probate court order. Yes, there are exceptions to this general statement: joint tenancy, living trusts, transfer on death deeds to name a few. However, by and large, a California probate court order is required. The question is which type.

I am using approximate numbers as the thresholds now change every couple of years but generally speaking the cutoffs are:

UNDER $55,000;

$55,000 – $180,000;

OVER $180,000.


The easiest and least expensive is the under $55,000. Yes, a lot of Salton Sea property, even beach front, is probably in this classification. If just the simple under $55k affidavit is needed the cost can be very reasonable.  This can be done 6 months after death and takes about 2 months to finish.

The next level would be the succession to real property worth under $180k.  This can be done 40 days after death and takes about 3-6 months depending on which county in California it is filed. Some courts are more impacted than others.

If the value is over about $180k then you need a full California probate. We have many articles and blog posts on our website about this.

The valuation is NOT determined by the tax assessment. Rather the valuation is determined by a California probate referee for the county in question. That is a real estate appraiser who has been determined fit to serve as an impartial referee to value properties in probate cases. Imperial county, being a less populous county, has one referee.  A big county like Los Angeles might have 10 referees.

If you need help with any level of California probate in Imperial county or anywhere else in the state please reach out so we can discuss you case.


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