What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone dies.  It can occur whether there is a Will (testate) or if there is no Will (intestate).  It usually includes:

  • Proving in court that the Will is valid (usually a routine matter);
  • Identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property (both real and personal);
  • Having the property appraised (valued);
  • Paying the deceased person’s debts and taxes;
  • Distributing the remaining property as the will (or state law, if there’s no will) directs.

Typically, probate involves filing of paperwork and court appearances by the Personal Representative or Administrator of the Estate with the help of lawyers.  The lawyer’s fees and court fees are paid from Estate property, along with other Estate debts prior to distributing the remaining property to the heirs.

Washington State law does require filing of the Will.

Washington law DOES REQUIRE any last Will of a deceased Washington Resident to be filed promptly following death.  Regardless of whether or not the deceased person’s estate is probated, the Will should be filed within 40 Days of the person’s death in the county they resided in at the time of death.

Do I need to go through Probate?

Washington State law DOES NOT REQUIRE Probate.  Probate is discretionary. Practically speaking only a small percent of deaths in Washington result in a Probate being filed.  It’s usually only filed if someone wants or needs to accomplish a specific task or exercise a legal claim that cannot be accomplished absent Probate.  Some common reasons for Probate are:

  • Decedent died holding personal property exceeding $100,000 in Decedent’s own name;
  • Decedent died holding any real property titled in Decedent’s  own name;
  • Someone wishing to contest the Will;
  • Someone contesting the authority or actions of the Personal Representative administering the Will;
  • To change or appoint a new Personal Representative;
  • To clear title on Joint Property held without Right of Survivorship;
  • If the deceased person owned real estate in another state, the Personal Representative may need to conduct a second probate proceeding in that state.

There may be many more specific reasons depending on specific facts and you should consult with a Probate Attorney to determine if Probate is needed.

Do I need a Probate Attorney?

Practically speaking, if any of the above conditions apply you will want or need a Probate Attorney. Also you may want a Probate Attorney if there is any question regarding the identity or nature of the Decedent’s assets, heirs or beneficiaries, if there are disputes over the validity of the Will,  if there are disputes over how the Will is being administered or if you are a Personal Representative needing help in administering the Probate.

How long does Probate take?

Probate in Washington typically takes six months to a year, depending on some individual case factors. It can take much longer if there is a court fight over the Will (which is rare) or unusual assets or debts that complicate matters.  Unless there is a dispute, it’s mainly a matter of filing paperwork.

What can a Probate Attorney help with besides Probate?

An Estate and Probate Attorney can help you plan and draft a Will and Estate Plan before you pass so that you can avoid Probate and your loved ones will have some guidance and understand what your wishes were. Besides assisting with the administration of a Probate Estate, a Probate Attorney can help the Personal Administrator carry out the duties required to complete the administration of a Non-Probate Estate.  Regardless of the size of the Estate, a Probate Attorney can advise you and provide answers to you through the process of settling  the deceased person’s Estate whether or not they had a Will.

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