probate attorneys

Our Experienced Seattle Probate Attorneys Help Clients During Difficult Times

Our Seattle probate attorney at Dickson Frohlich can help you avoid the problems that may come with the probate process. We can also create an estate plan that will make you feel confident your loved ones will be provided for and your plans will be put into action. Our probate lawyers will handle your estate effectively, efficiently, and professionally while providing you with excellent, personal service.

You need to find a Seattle probate lawyer you can trust. We earn our clients’ trust every day by educating them about the law, giving them options, creating plans that work, properly writing legal documents, and making sure their plans are put into action. Dickson Frohlich probate lawyers will help you and your family with any probate matters you face.

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Seattle Washington Probate Attorneys

Our probate services include the following:

  • Explaining the legal process after a relative has passed on, and postmortem estate planning

  • Assisting you in filing a will

  • Protecting your assets for heirs/beneficiaries

  • Guardianships

  • Assistance with contesting a will, including claims of undue influence

  • Representation in probate, estate, and trust litigation

  • Formal and summary probate administration

  • Estate and trust administration

  • Representation of personal representatives

  • Appointment of a special administrator

Discover What Makes Dickson Frohlich Probate Attorneys Different

You can leave the court filings, paperwork, tax issues, phone calls, inventorying, etc., to us, letting you live your life and focus on your family.

Experience and Compassion – We understand that you and your family may be going through a very difficult time. Making your final arrangements or coping with the estate of a loved one can be very stressful. Probate disputes, on top of the loss of a loved one, can result in family disputes. Put our decades of experience as Seattle probate attorneys to work for you. Our thoughtful, accurate, and timely handling of your loved one’s personal and financial matters will help smooth the process and reduce stress as much as possible. You can confidently leave the court filings, paperwork, tax issues, phone calls, inventorying, etc., to us, letting you live your life and focus on your family.

Skilled Probate Attorneys – Estate planning and probate are highly specialized areas of law. Over the years, our attorneys have learned the skills and gained the experience needed to help you and your family get the results you want. Using an attorney who handles these matters part-time could give you problems you want to avoid. Don’t hire an attorney who will be learning while working for you.

Affordability – Estate planning and probate help isn’t just for the rich. Dickson Frohlich is committed to providing great service in all areas of probate, trust, and estate planning, at rates you can afford. Our fees may be a fraction of the cost of the problems that could result if you proceed without legal advice or representation. At this stressful time, don’t let surprise legal fees add to your worries. At Dickson Frohlich, we won’t hesitate to give you a price over the phone for the services we can provide.

Estate planning and probate help isn’t just for the wealthy.

For more information or to talk about your concerns, just call our offices in Seattle or Tacoma for a free phone discussion at 206-621-1110. Our team of probate attorneys in Seattle looks forward to working with you.

Our Seattle Probate & Estate Law Practice Areas

Attorney Thomas L. Dickson

Thomas L. Dickson

Tom is an experienced litigator and the founding partner of the Dickson Frohlich. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients prevail in their real estate, construction, and business law matters.

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Attorney Robert P. Dickson

Robert P. Dickson

The core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners.

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Attorney Daniel J. Frohlich

Daniel J. Frohlich

Dan’s legal practice focuses on civil litigation, real estate law, business law and probate law. He has more than 10 years of experience as an attorney serving clients throughout Western Washington.

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Attorney Mark S. Johnson

Mark S. Johnson

Mark’s legal practice focuses on civil litigation, real estate law, business law and family law. He works tirelessly to help his clients achieve the outcome they are looking for.

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Attorney Daniel Pizarro

Daniel Pizarro

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich, Daniel is active in the firm’s civil litigation department. His practice is mainly centered around real estate law, landlord-tenant law, construction law, and probate law.

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Attorney George Knight

George Knight

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich, George is active in the firm’s civil litigation and transactional departments. His practice is mainly centered around business law, real estate law, construction law, employment law, and probate law.

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Attorney Chris Lindemeier

Chris Lindemeier

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich, Chris practices in a wide range of areas, including business law, real estate law, civil litigation, and intellectual property law.

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Attorney Alexander Wisbey

Alexander Wisbey

Alexander Wisbey comes to the firm with 5 years of experience as a litigator and trial attorney. He has first chaired several jury trials and has extensive experience handling arbitrations, mediations, depositions, and settlements.

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Attorney Kerry P. Zeiler

Kerry P. Zeiler

Kerry P. Zeiler is an experienced trial lawyer with over 16-years of experience representing small businesses and consumer plaintiffs in litigation matters. He is admitted to practice in the States of Washington, California and Minnesota.

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Attorney Jennifer Yoo

Jennifer Yoo

Jennifer is an associate attorney at Dickson Frohlich where her current practice focuses on real estate law, contract and commercial disputes, and business law.

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Attorney Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy

Mike has practiced in land use as a hearing Examiner and Litigator since passing the bar in 2013, including zoning issues and shoreline projects.

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WHAT DOES A PROBATE ATTORNEY DO?

Many individuals appointed as personal representatives don’t know how the probate process works or what obligations must be fulfilled before the estate’s assets can be distributed. Our Seattle probate lawyers can provide you with the advice and guidance you need to successfully administer an estate.

We can assist you with the wide variety of issues that can arise from a loved one’s death and the subsequent transfer of assets. When you retain our probate attorneys, we will handle a broad range of tasks for you, including:

Court Procedures

We file the probate petition to get the executor established by the court. There are numerous pleadings that must be filed with the probate court, including an inventory and appraisal of the estate assets. We also make arguments to the court if there is a will contest or the validity of the will is questioned.

Creditors

Creditors of the estate must be given notice of the probate action. We address the creditors’ claims and respond to any inquiries.

Estate Taxes

We know how to minimize estate taxes to help ensure that the bulk of the estate is passed to beneficiaries, rather than to the government.

Transfer Assets

We help transfer the deceased’s title to real estate and other assets to the named beneficiaries.

Guardian Issues

If a minor child has lost his/her parents, we assist with issues related to establishing a legal guardian for the minor.

Executor

In some cases, we are named in the deceased’s will as the executor of the estate. This means that we are paid a fee out of the estate to handle all tasks related to the probate of the will.

Seattle Probate Attorneys

Our Seattle Probate Lawyers Can Help You Understand Probate Law

When you’re responsible for a loved one’s estate, ignorance is not bliss.

Understanding Estates

Though the probate process is not always needed, it’s a good idea to follow it. If correctly done, the process can protect the estate’s personal representative (the person in charge of the estate) from legal claims and ensure that the estate is correctly distributed to the beneficiaries (those named in the will to receive assets).

Duties of a Personal Representative

He or she organizes the estate’s important documents and wealth, pays debts and taxes, and, with what’s left over, spreads the assets according to the will’s instructions. The process helps those owed money by the deceased and creates the beneficiaries’ rights to the deceased’s assets. If there is no valid will, assets remaining would be sent to the person’s closest family members, based on Washington state’s probate law.

The Difference Between “Intestate” and “Testate”

If the deceased has a will, he or she died “testate.” If there is no will or the person made what he or she thought was a valid will, but the person was mistaken, the person died “intestate.” Washington state law spells out which family members may get assets from the estate. A will would provide you some control over how your assets are shared after your death, such as going to non-family members or nonprofit groups.

How Probate and Non-Probate Assets Differ

An estate can have non-probate and probate assets. The difference between the two is:

  • The language of the legal documents creating non-probate assets controls what happens to them.
  • Probate assets are controlled by the will, or state law if there is no will.

The most common types of non-probate assets are:

  • Bank and financial accounts set up by the decedent and another person which have “right of survivorship” language (if one dies before the other, the survivor owns what’s in the account).
  • Property owned in “joint tenancy” with rights of survivorship, which means both parties own it. If one dies before the other, the survivor owns the property.
  • Assets that are community property (owned by two people) under state law, assuming there’s a marriage or a community-property agreement.
  • Life insurance policies with a beneficiary who will get the proceeds when the insured dies (as long as the designated beneficiary is not the estate).
  • Any other assets controlled by a beneficiary. They could include a 401(k) or an investment account naming someone as the beneficiary if the account holder dies.

Six Important Questions Our Probate Lawyer Answers

Probate law covers what happens to a deceased person’s property after their death. Their assets (their possessions and wealth) and liabilities (taxes, fees, debts, bills) become their “estate,” which legally owns them after their death. Through probate, it’s decided what will be done with both: which bills must get paid, which assets are sold to pay them, who gets what assets that are left over.

The probate process applies whether or not there is a will. Through a will you can nominate someone to be responsible for the estate; the court will decide who will be the personal representative. Where there is no will, people can ask the court for that job. If you have a will and a minor child, you can also nominate your child’s guardian. Your will should include named beneficiaries. These are people, charities, or trusts who will get assets after your debts are paid. Without a will, the next of kin get the assets based on state statute.

An estate that’s “small” need not go through the whole probate process. If the assets’ value subject to probate — not including a surviving spouse’s or domestic partner’s community property interest, less liens and encumbrances — is $100,000 or less, there are much simpler procedures. Assets that need not be probated and wouldn’t count toward the $100,000 include:

  • Those owned in joint tenancy with others
  • Assets that are part of a community-property agreement which is signed by the deceased and their spouse or domestic partner
  • Where a beneficiary is named outside a will. This includes bank, investment, and retirement accounts; life insurance proceeds; and pension benefits.
  • Assets held by a revocable living trust.

An inheritor would create an affidavit and file it with the court. It would state that they’re entitled to a certain asset, along with other facts. If it, along with the death certificate, is presented to the party holding an asset, it should be released to the inheritor. Written notice must be sent to other inheritors at least 10 days before filing the affidavit.

Probate requires many documents and a lot of information. If it’s possible, start preparing before your loved one passes away. If he or she is elderly, chronically ill, or severely disabled, get answers from them so you’ll waste as little time as possible after their death. You should:

  • Find a will and any codicils (changes to the will). If there are none, ask your family member to consider estate planning so their wishes can be followed. If you can’t find a will, contact your family’s attorney, if you have one, to see if a will was executed. Ask family members or friends to see if the deceased talked about a will and where it might be. You could also search through files and safe deposit boxes where important papers are held.
  • Order several copies of the death certificate.
  • Find and organize life insurance policies, property appraisals, bank and investment account information, as well as documents concerning real estate, vehicle, and investment ownership. You should also get income and property tax documents.

You should hire a Dickson Frohlich probate lawyer because we will give you peace of mind. A complex process will be taken care of; you’ll be fully aware of what’s going on; we’ll advise you about what needs to be done; and you’ll be able to spend your time living your life – not learning probate law or spending time in court.

Our probate attorneys in Seattle know the process and will keep the case moving as quickly as possible. Required notices will be sent and pleadings will be filed in court. Your family may pull together after your loved one’s death or pull apart due to arguments over inheritances. We will keep you on track and doing the right things if this happens. Our firm will also deal with creditors and tax authorities.

A probate lawyer will file necessary tax forms and make sure inheritances are distributed properly, obtain releases, and make sure the estate is finalized and closed by the court. We will also defend you and the estate in any court challenges.

In Washington State, the Superior Court is responsible for the process. Under state law, it should start in the county where the decedent resided or died or where the property owned by a nonresident decedent is located.

COMMON ESTATE PLANNING MISTAKES THAT CAN LEAD TO PROBATE PROBLEMS

(Or what not to do when preparing your will and powers of attorney)

Mistakes you make could cause a lot of stress, conflict, expense, wasted time, and money by your personal representative and beneficiaries.

Estate planning mistakes probably won’t impact you personally, because most legal documents and the probate process take effect after your death. There are mistakes that could lead to a lawsuit about whether the will is legal. As probate lawyers, we represent parties on both sides of these disputes.

Mistake 1: Not Doing Any Estate Planning

Whether you plan ahead and name beneficiaries through a will or decide not to have a will so your closest family members get your property after you die, your property will be divided up. If you want a say in who gets it, create a will.

A lawful estate plan will make sure your wealth will go to those you want to receive it (assuming there are assets after costs, debts, and taxes are paid). If you want to support a charity, you must donate during your life or use estate planning to support it after you pass away.

Mistake 2: Failing to Keep Your Estate Plan Current

Update your estate plan. Your life changes. Children become adults. Your assets may increase or decrease. Someone you wanted to be a beneficiary may die before you do or become financially well off and not need your help. Your family may grow or shrink. Relationships change. You may lose touch with people who once were close to you. Over time you may want to support different causes or people. Changing your estate plan over time can reflect the changes in your life.

Mistake 3: Failing to Plan for Incapacity

Estate planning isn’t just writing a will so that you will have some control over your assets after you pass away. It’s also about limiting the harm that could happen if you lose mental and/or physical ability while you’re alive. You can create different powers of attorney, documents that allow others to make decisions for you.

  • A financial power of attorney gives someone the ability to control your finances. It can be very wide (covering all your financial matters), very narrow (using one account to pay certain bills), or somewhere in between.
  • A healthcare power of attorney will name someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. They also have instructions on what kind of treatment you want and don’t want. A healthcare directive or living will is similar but goes into effect only if you’re terminally ill.

Mistake 4: Confusing or Contradictory Documents

Estate planning documents should be simple and clear. They should plainly state how your wealth should be shared and who gets it. Complicated or confusing ways to share wealth or making rules about how people can benefit from the estate will probably create problems among your family members. Heirs could sue your estate over the will’s legality. Wills shouldn’t leave people confused or guessing.

Mistake 5: Failing to Understand What Might Happen to Non-Probate Assets or Those Not Mentioned in Your Will

A will does not impact joint or shared accounts with “right of survivorship” (see above). If you don’t want the person with a legal right to your account to gain ownership after your death, you need to make changes while you still can.

Mistake 6: Creating or Altering a Will for the Wrong Reasons

There are right and wrong reasons to create a will. A proper reason is to help people and causes you care about. A wrong reason is to try to control a family member’s life after your death or to vent your anger.

If someone close to you has made you angry, think long and hard before changing your will to exclude them or sharply reduce what they may get. Trying to use your assets as a carrot, or withholding them as a stick, so that someone will act a certain way may leave family members angry and upset. It could also cause lawsuits.

A Probate Attorney’s Role in Mental Capacity and Estate Planning

Under state law, anyone “of sound mind” at least 18 years old can create a valid will. What is a sound mind (or testamentary capacity)? Who decides whether a person’s mind is sound? The person must understand: 1. What he or she owns 2. Who will be getting it 3. That the will is how ownership will transfer.

For a mind to be sound, these criteria must be met when the will was signed. If our Seattle probate lawyers have any doubt that a client may have problems with capacity, we will talk to the person’s doctor, if possible, to see whether the person should write a will or other legal document.

When we perform estate planning, we make sure legal papers are valid and do our best to prevent possible legal challenges. If you use a “do it yourself” online will form or a lawyer who doesn’t know estate planning well, it increases the chances that probate will get complicated with legal challenges.

Understanding and Preventing Undue Influence in Creating a Will

If a will is legal — it’s in writing, signed by the person creating it (the testator), that person has testamentary capacity, and the will is properly witnessed — under Washington state law it’s presumed to be legal, no matter how it states the wealth should be shared.

Those creating wills have a right (within limits) to decide what happens to their wealth after they die. Because this leaves a lot of leeway, some may try to influence the testator in order to get more money or wealth. That’s acceptable up to a point, but if it becomes extreme, it may be “undue influence,” which could be a reason for a lawsuit.

To show that undue influence happened when a will was written, a family member needs to prove that the influence…

  • Was so strong that the testator’s free will was destroyed
  • Caused the testator to write a will much differently than what would have been made without it.

If the challenger is successful, even if just a part of the will was disputed, the entire will is ruled invalid. If that’s the judge’s decision, earlier wills may be considered or the next of kin will receive assets.

Probate Protections Provided by Washington Law

There are limits on what you can do through a will.

Law firms and probate attorneys in Seattle know that while a decedent’s will mostly controls what happens to his or her property, there are protections in state law for certain people, such as close relatives who are not listed as receiving wealth in the will.

Community Property: Protection for a Surviving Spouse

Under state law, most property “acquired after marriage” is “community property.” There are protections for surviving spouses who may have mistakenly been left out of a will. Separate property is not community property. Separate property refers to “all property acquired before marriage” which was maintained separately throughout the marriage. Separate property also includes any property received after marriage as a gift. Gifts can be anything given to a person without there being an exchange in return.

The next issue would be deciding what wealth and property can be transferred through the will. Under state law, a spouse can give away his or her half-interest in community property (with some limits) and his or her separate property.

There is no Washington State law preventing a parent from disinheriting (or not leaving any property to) a child. If this happens, the child can look to the will to see if there is clear and convincing proof that the omission was intentional. If not, the child could challenge the will.

If a will is written, another child is born, but the will wasn’t updated before the testator died, a judge would probably decide that the disinheritance was not intentional. Generally, the child would get the same share of the property as his or her siblings.

Investigating Intent When a Child Is Disinherited

If you disinherit a child in a will, your intent must be clear, or your effort may fail.

Another difficult issue that probate law firms in Seattle face is that of a child that appears to be disinherited by mistake. Generally, decedents have broad control over how their assets are distributed after death. There is no statute or legal decision stating that parents cannot disinherit a child.

However, if a Seattle probate attorney finds a situation where it looks like the deceased targeted a child for disinheritance, they can look for the intent behind it. The will must show “clear and convincing evidence” that the omission was “intentional” in order for it to be valid.

When preparing an estate plan, a wills and trusts attorney is limited by time. You may create a will, distributing assets between and among your children, and then later in life have additional children, or “issue.“ All things being equal, if the testator dies before updating their estate plan, it’s highly unlikely that the disinheritance was intentional.

What Does the Omitted Child Statute Mean?

The Omitted Child Statute (RCW 11.12.091) was created to address this situation. According to the statute, for the law to apply, the child in question must be …

  • Born or adopted after the “execution” of his parent’s will, and
  • Alive when the testator died.

An “omitted child” is eligible to receive the same proportional inheritance that his or her siblings will receive. This child could receive assets outside the will and the probate process because they’re a designated beneficiary of an investment account, bank account, or trust.

Why You Should Choose Our Seattle Probate Attorneys

A will can give you some control over your wealth after your death. If Dickson Frohlich is involved in probating your will, you should feel confident that we will strongly defend your estate’s legal rights and make sure the process is done correctly.

If you’re serving as a personal representative of an estate, the help you can get from a probate attorney can make your job much easier. Probate can be complex and intimidating. If you make a mistake, it can be costly for the estate — and possibly to you, too. With assistance from probate attorneys in Seattle, you will be protected from personal liability that can arise if you’re accused of mismanaging the estate.

No matter the probate issue, Dickson Frohlich has over 100 years of experience helping people make and deal with final and personal arrangements.

We are the legal consultants to turn to for help with any estate or trust issue, as well as drafting your will, trust documents, powers of attorney or healthcare directive. A free 15-minute phone consultation is available when you call us at 206-621-1110.

Services Our Seattle Probate Attorneys Provide

Our Team Helps Clients in both Probate & Estate Law Practice Areas

Probate Services

  • Probate and administration of an estate
  • Formal and summary probate administration
  • Representation of personal representatives
  • Appointment of a special administrator
  • Explaining the legal process after a relative has passed on

Estate Planning Services

  • Drafting estate documents
  • Estate and trust administration
  • Assisting you in filing a will
  • Protecting your assets for heirs/beneficiaries
  • Estate litigation

Drafting Important Documents

  • Last will and testament
  • Power of attorney
  • Legal guardianships

Probate and Estate Litigation Services

  • Probate litigation
  • Assistance with contesting a will
  • Undue influence in wills
  • Defective wills and trusts
  • Litigation for abused will and trust beneficiaries
  • Contested trusts
  • Trust accounting litigation
  • Recovery for financial elder abuse

When You Need a Skilled Probate Attorney in Seattle, Call Dickson Frohlich

For more information or to talk about your concerns, just call our probate attorney in Seattle for a free 15-minute phone discussion at 206-621-1110. We also have an office in Tacoma and look forward to working with you.

Featured Testimonial

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dickson Law for a few years now. I’ve found them to be super professional and responsive, but I most appreciate that they operate with integrity.”
Review by: Karmen F.
Reviewing: Tacoma & Seattle Probate Attorneys
Date published: 2015-10-10
Rating: ★★★★★ 5 / 5 stars
*DISCLAIMER: Please note that every case is different and presents its own unique set of variables. Thus, no guarantee can be made that you will obtain the same or similar result as a previous client.