What Is a Probate Referee?

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In all states, except California, a probate referee is an attorney hired by the court to assist the probate judges with hearing probate cases, usually due to a congested docket. In California, probate referees have a specialized function in the probate process that is solely limited to valuing the property of probate estates.

Probate Referees Duties

The probate referee's duties are functionally similar to that of the probate judge. A probate judge will assign cases for the referee to hear and the referee will make recommendations for rulings. If the parties agree to the decision of the referee, the matter will be routinely approved by the judge. If an objection is made, the judge will handle it.

Appointment and Qualifications

Probate referees are attorneys, usually with five years or more of experience, who have passed the court's screening process to be appointed as a referee. The appointment will be for a limited time, such as a year or two, but may be renewed.

Probate Referees Roles

In California, the probate referee serves solely as an appraiser of the estate property, such as promissory notes, art, intellectual property, real estate and a going business. In other states, the referee is given the power to administer oaths and take acknowledgments in legal matters.


By law, the California Comptroller appoints the probate referees in each county. The probate judges typically assign referees to probate cases by picking the next referee on the approved list.


A probate referee must meet certain educational and work experience standards, as well as pass a written exam. Referees are usually attorneys, certified public accountants or professional appraisers

About the Author

Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.

Photo Credits

  • Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of woodley wonderworks