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The term Probate carries an undeserved (in Washington) negative connotation for many people.  The probate process actually can solve more headaches than it creates, especially in Washington State where the process is very straightforward.

Probate is the orderly process of administering the estate of a person who has died (decedent).  Steps are taken to grant authority to the executor or administrator to wind up the decedent’s affairs including selling real property.  Probate also provides a manner for resolving issues involving creditors of the decedent in a timely fashion.  Probate provides a mechanism to establish a formal inventory of assets and liabilities.  Not all assets may be subject to probate.  See Avoiding Probate.

In Washington State, the probate process may involve:

  • Petitioning the court to admit the Will and appoint the named Personal Representative (Executor) to distribute the estate according to the terms of the Will.
  • In cases where there is no Will, appointing a Personal Representative (Administrator) to distribute the estate according to Washington State laws of intestacy.
  • Providing notice of the probate to all heirs to establish a time period with a clear deadline for any challenges to be made to the decedent’s Will.
  • Providing notice to creditors via publication and direct notice to ascertainable creditors of the decedent, to establish a time period with a clear deadline for any and all creditor claims against the estate.
  • Preparing an inventory of the assets and liabilities of the estate (useful for sorting out creditor claims, determining appropriate distributions, and assessing if the estate will be subject to estate taxes, both federal and state).
  • Marshalling the assets of the decedent, including perhaps selling real property, liquidating stocks and bonds, claiming ownership of bank accounts, and selling and/or transferring title on motor vehicles and any other personal property owned by the decedent.
  • Distributing these assets to the beneficiaries of the estate.
  • Finally, notifying the Court after the claims period has expired: that the estate is ready to be closed; that any claims made were settled; and that all assets have been distributed to beneficiaries.
What is the Benefit of Probate?  
No surprises later - the probate process provides a specific timeline for parties to challenge the Will, a timeline and procedure for creditors to make claims against the estate and provides for one person (Executor or Administrator) to have the authority to administer the estate of the decedent.  Once the probate process is completed the estate is formally closed and no surprise claims can be made later.

What if I Have a 'Small' Estate?  
In certain circumstances, if you have a simple or small estate, it may be settled without the probate process. Community property agreements, Living Trusts and other estate planning tools can pass property without going through a formal probate process.  Generally, estates valued at under $100K may be settled via a small estate procedure that can take the place of a formal probate process.  We advise you if this route is an option for you and when it is, help prepare affidavits, notices and other required steps.

How Long Does Probate Take?  
The length of time for the probate process and the amount of time and work involved to administer the estate depends on the complexity of the estate.  An estate holding an ongoing business, for example, will require more work on the part of the Personal Representative and may require the hiring of more than one attorney, as well as accountants, appraisers and other professionals.  The process for a solvent estate with few beneficiaries who are easily contacted and who all get along is generally much simpler to administer.  A typical probate can last 4-12 months; complicated ones can take longer.