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How to File Probate in Washington State

How to file probate in Washington State is an issue families deal with every day. The probate process can be very complex. An estate can have added complexity when: the value of assets is high, when the number and amount of debts carried by the estate are high, when many heirs are involved, or when some heirs look for a reason to invalidate a will.

Filing for probate in Washington state is often necessary to legally transfer assets and settle the affairs of a deceased loved one. While the process may seem daunting, probate provides a structured way to ensure the wishes of the deceased are honored. It offers a framework for navigating complex legal requirements during a difficult time, providing clarity and protection for all involved.

Probate can be overwhelming, especially as you are grieving the loss of a loved one. That’s why you may want to turn to our Seattle probate attorneys for help.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process used to administer an estate (the assets and financial obligation of the deceased) by organizing assets, paying debts, and distributing remaining assets to next of kin (if there is no will) or to beneficiaries (if there is a will). The estate’s personal representative (the “PR”) is the person responsible for handling the estate. The court makes sure the estate is correctly administered and resolves disputes between parties involved.

Is Probate Necessary?

Probate isn’t mandatory in Washington State, but state law requires wills to be filed with the court. As a practical matter, most estates should be probated. There are benefits to the probate process that outweigh the costs.

The probate process provides a legal framework for resolving disputes, helps ensure proper distribution of assets, and validates the authenticity of the will. Probate also offers protection for creditors and heirs, ensuring debts are settled and assets are distributed fairly after the decedent’s death.

When to File Probate?

When to file probate is set by Washington State statute. It needs to be filed within 40 days of the person’s death, so don’t waste time. If you believe your loved one has drafted a will, find it and file it with the court.

If a decedent dies without a will or if a will cannot be located, the estate typically enters intestate succession. This means state laws dictate how assets are distributed among heirs. In such cases, it’s important to follow Washington’s laws regarding intestate succession, which prioritize the surviving spouse, children, parents, and other relatives in a specific order.

Community property is addressed in probate proceedings through specific laws that govern its distribution upon the death of one spouse. Community property typically includes assets acquired during the marriage, such as income earned and property purchased. Upon the death of one spouse, their property typically passes to the surviving spouse outside of probate. However, certain assets or situations may still require a probate proceeding, especially if there are creditors or disputes involved.

Who Has to File Probate?

If you’re named as the executor (male) or executrix (female) in the will, you should file probate. If there is no will, a family member should file. This person may or may not be later appointed as the person responsible for handling the estate.

Where to File Probate?

Where to file probate depends on the county where the person died, where the personal representative lives, or where a majority of the beneficiaries live.

How Long Should Probate Take?

Probate can take six months to a year, depending on several issues. It may take much longer if there’s a dispute over the will or if the estate has unusual assets or debts. If the estate and its finances are relatively straightforward, probate mainly involves filing paperwork.

The personal representative needs to organize and bring together the decedent’s assets, remove his or her name from property titles, sell assets, pay the decedent’s creditors, and pay taxes. If a house is involved, depending on the market and asking price, selling it may take some time. If a Notice to Creditors is published, there is a four-month period in which creditors can file their claims.

Why Should I Get Involved in the Probate Process?

Most family members and personal representatives who file for probate need help with complicated estate issues. You should file if the deceased person left personal property worth more than $100,000 or owned real estate that can only be transferred through probate.

Other Reasons to File Probate Include

  • The estate was insolvent and the court can settle the debts with creditors.
  • Someone wants to dispute the will or another estate matter.
  • There are questions concerning who is an heir (a family member) or beneficiary (a person or organization listed in a will as a party benefiting from the will).
  • The nature of the estate’s property is in question.
  • You want to challenge specific creditor claims against the estate.
  • You need the court’s help to get access to the deceased person’s safety deposit box.
  • There were pending legal actions involving the deceased at the time of death.

A personal representative faces possible personal liability if he or she mishandles the estate. If there are complex issues involving the estate and the court oversees the process and provides guidance, it may help you avoid liability for your actions. Another option is to seek help from a skilled probate attorney.

A lawyer can guide you through complex legal requirements, navigate potential disputes, and ensure all necessary documents are filed correctly and on time. Additionally, a lawyer can help expedite the process, reduce stress, and provide peace of mind during a challenging time.

After a loved one dies, it can be difficult to decide whether to file for probate or not. If you have questions or concerns, consult with one of our experienced Seattle probate attorneys who can discuss with you your situation.

What Happens During the Probate Process?

The following steps are involved in the probate process:

  • File the will and petition the court for Appointment of Personal Representative
  • Send the Notice of Appointment of PR to beneficiaries, heirs, and other interested parties
  • Collect, manage and if necessary, sell estate property
  • Pay estate debts
  • Determine and pay due taxes
  • Distribute remaining assets to beneficiaries or heirs
  • Close the estate.

Know these Details About How to File Probate in Washington

A probate case has common elements that the estate’s personal representative will need to know about to begin the Washington probate process.

Letter of Testamentary

As the appointed personal representative, you should obtain a Letter of Testamentary. This document will show financial institutions and others holding the deceased’s assets that you are the court-appointed and authorized representative of the estate. It shows you can make decisions impacting the estate. Without a letter of testamentary, institutions probably won’t allow you to take actions concerning estate property.

How to File Probate When There Is a Will

If there’s a will, the court should admit it to probate. By admitting the will, the court declares it will control how the decedent’s assets are distributed and it starts a four-month period where a person may challenge its validity. After that time passes, there can be no challenges.

How to File Probate When There Is No Will

If there is no will, you need to give notice to heirs, manage creditors, handle taxes, and close the estate properly. But what remains after taxes and debts are paid would be distributed to the deceased’s next of kin, based on Washington’s state law of intestate succession.

Nonintervention Powers

The court should also grant the named personal representative “nonintervention powers.” They enable you to manage the estate without asking the court for permission to perform simple tasks, like selling assets, paying bills, or distributing assets to beneficiaries. Without it, pleadings will need to be filed and permission will be required before you, as PR, can do your job.

If the will names you as executor (male) or executrix (female) and doesn’t limit your ability to get nonintervention powers, the court should grant these powers to you. If you’re not nominated or there is no will, you can still get these powers, but the process is more complicated.

Valuation of Assets

The PR needs to gain access to and put a value on all of the decedent’s assets. You would prepare an inventory of the deceased’s belongings and put a value on every significant asset as of the day of the decedent’s death.

The PR starts by identifying all the assets owned by the deceased. This includes everything from real estate and bank accounts to personal belongings and investments. An inventory list serves as a comprehensive record of what the deceased owned.

For each asset listed in the inventory, the PR needs to determine its value as of the date of the decedent’s death. This valuation is essential for accurately assessing the estate’s total value and determining how to distribute assets. Some assets, such as real estate or valuable artwork, may require professional appraisal to determine their fair market value.

The PR submits the final inventory of assets, along with their valuations, to the court overseeing the probate proceedings. This report provides the court with essential information about the estate’s value and helps guide the distribution of assets.

Handle Any Debts

The personal representative is responsible for making sure the decedent’s debts are dealt with. You may publish a Notice to Creditors in a legal newspaper in the county where the person resided at the time of death. This Notice should be published once each week for three consecutive weeks. A claimant needs to respond to the Notice with a claim no later than four months after its first publication.

You should also send a Notice to Creditors to all potential creditors. They have 30 days to make a claim after you send the Notice. However, they can choose to respond to the published Notice in a newspaper, which extends their ability to make a claim to four months from that publishing date.

You must also search for all “reasonably ascertainable creditors.” You should look at financial documents, income tax returns, all mail, and all other correspondences, including what was received after the person’s death.

When you find valid bills, you can pay the debt, try to negotiate with the creditor or send it a Notice to Creditors. If you do this, and the creditor fails to file a Creditor Claim within 30 days (or within four months after the first notice publication, whichever is later), you can ignore the debt.

The creditor claim process isn’t a shield against all debts. Neither a claim arising after death (such as funeral costs and estate taxes) nor a debt secured by property (such as a mortgage) can be avoided through the creditor claim process.

Close the Probate Process

After selling or removing the deceased’s name from all of his or her property, after you dealt with the creditors, and after you handled the tax issues, you should be able to close the probate process. This includes the final distribution of assets based on the will or, if there is no will, based on state law.

How Our Attorney Can Help with Filing Probate in Washington State

Hiring a probate attorney is based on trust. We earn our clients’ trust by educating them about the law, telling them their options, creating successful strategies, executing legal documents properly, and making sure our clients’ desires are put into action. Probate attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess are here to help you and your family on a wide range of probate matters. If you have any questions about probate or want to discuss getting legal help for your probate matter, call us at 206-621-1110 or use our online form to contact us.