A common term that you might hear after someone passes away is “probate.” Probate is the process of administering an estate by collecting assets, settling debts, and making distributions to family members. This process is overseen by the court to ensure that the estate is properly administered and can resolve any disputes. If your loved one dies, you may wonder whether probate is necessary for your situation.
In Washington State, probates aren’t mandatory. However, while that’s true from a technical standpoint, from a practical one, the majority of estates should absolutely use probate process. In other words, usually it is a benefit to file for probate, even if you do not need to. It is also important to note that while Washington law does not necessarily require a probate, it DOES require you to file any existing wills with the court. You must do this within 40 days of the death, so you should not delay in locating and filing a will if you believe your loved one has drafted one.
If you file for probate, it is likely because you need assistance with the often-complex estate issues that typically arise. You should always file for probate if the deceased left personal property worth more than $100,000, or if they individually own any real property that cannot be transferred by other means. Some additional reasons you will choose to file for probate include:
- The estate was insolvent and you want the court to settle the debts with creditors;
- You want to dispute the will or other matter regarding the estate;
- There are questions regarding who is an heir or beneficiary;
- The nature of certain property is in question;
- You want to challenge certain creditor claims against the estate;
- You need the court to grant you access to the deceased person’s safety deposit box;
- There were pending legal actions involving the deceased.
If the above or any other complex issues may exist in the administration of the estate, it is often best to have the courts there to oversee the process. This can provide guidance throughout the administration and can help to avoid liability on your part as the personal representative of the estate.
It can be a difficult decision whether or not you need to file for probate if a loved one dies. If you have questions or concerns, it is generally best to consult with an experienced legal professional who can evaluate your situation.