Tacoma Probate Attorneys

Tacoma Probate Lawyers

After a person in Tacoma passes away, probate is the legal process to properly distribute the assets of an estate. When you secure legal help from our Tacoma probate lawyers, you can trust that your interests are protected. We have an obligation to the estate’s heirs and to the personal representative. There is good reason to get legal representation. The probate process has many steps and can be complicated if anyone raises legal disputes related to the will of the deceased person.

Client Testimonial

”I could not reccommend Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess more. They provided a thorough expertise in the matter of my legal needs surrounding probate. The best of all, I was able to get friendly legal paid assistance without having to step inside the law office myself. Throughout the entirety of the legal process my Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess provided friendly, efficient and knowledgeable lawyers, paralegals, and accountants. Each of these well trained and, I’ll say it again, Friendly, staff members made themselves available throughout the work day and sometimes after hours to help me understand the legal hurdles we faced. All in all, I could not recommend DF enough. Thanks to Daniel, Jennie and the rest of the team at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess .” – Nicholas Finley (Google Review)


Why Choose Our Team of Probate Attorneys in Tacoma

We Have the Skills and Experience to Serve All Your Probate Needs

Our probate practice group, led by Daniel J. Frohlich, is one of Tacoma’s probate law finest. If you need high quality, cost-effective service and innovative legal solutions, count on our attorneys. Our approach to handling often complicated and unpredictable probate matters sets Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess apart from others. Our team has detailed knowledge of Washington laws related to probate.

We are confident in our record of service to our clients. We have the depth of knowledge, the years of experience, and the attention to your needs to handle your case with skill, attentiveness and detail. Learn what our clients say about how we’ve helped them.

How We Can Serve Your Probate Needs

Our Tacoma Probate Law Attorneys Can Help Throughout the Probate Process

Our experienced probate lawyers in Tacoma can assist you and your family in many different ways, including the following:

  • Before you pass away, legal documents can be created, and existing ones changed to help ensure that the probate process goes smoothly for your family. We can evaluate your financial and familial situation to identify and draft any necessary estate planning documents. We can regularly review your estate plan and advise you when you need to make changes or additions to your plan because of changed circumstances.

  • We will assist in the probate process to ensure all requirements are met and procedures are followed, which will limit delays or complications.

  • Our seasoned attorneys are available to advise executors throughout the administration of an estate in probate.

  • We vigorously represent the rights and interests of beneficiaries of a will or trust who wish to contest a will or challenge the actions of an executor or trustee.

To learn more about our estate planning and probate services, please contact the Tacoma office of the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess law firm as soon as possible.

We can help you protect your property and your family members, so call us today at 253-572-1000 or contact us online for your free consultation.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the term for the court process required to prove that a deceased person’s will is authentic and valid and also to carry out the intentions that the deceased set out in the will. The probate process can be surprisingly complicated, time-consuming, and costly if not handled correctly, especially if the deceased person did not implement any other estate planning devices besides a will.

The probate court must determine whether a will is valid and must address any objections to the validity of the terms of the will by any potential beneficiaries or heirs. Such arguments over terms of a will may turn into lengthy legal battles and you always want to make sure your rights are protected.

Having representation from an experienced probate attorney in Tacoma is imperative, as it would be in any other type of court proceeding, and can help the probate process go more smoothly and be less costly.

Our Tacoma Probate Lawyers Assist with Estate Administration

Even if a will is found to be valid, administering the estate in accordance with the terms of the wills is a complicated task in itself. The will should name an executor who is responsible for estate administration, which can include the following:

  • File the will with the probate court

  • Locate and notify all beneficiaries

  • Locate the deceased’s assets and manage them throughout the probate process

  • Open a bank account for the estate for any stock dividends or other payments that may come in during probate

  • Continue to pay all bills such as mortgages and homeowner’s insurance until the property is transferred

  • File and pay income taxes for the year during which the individual died

  • Notify creditors of the death and probate and pay debts out of the estate

  • Distribute all real estate, assets, and personal property to the proper beneficiaries in the will

  • Request the probate court to formally close the estate.

As you can see, estate administration can be complicated, and the assistance of a skilled attorney can be invaluable for the executor throughout this process.

Who May Serve as a Personal Representative in the Probate Process?

The appointment of a personal representative (the “executor/executrix”) is an important first step in the probate process. This individual, commonly working with a probate law attorney, has significant influence and authority over the decedent’s estate. They’re entrusted with acting on behalf of a deceased individual, ostensibly for the benefit of creditors and third-party heirs (often the decedent’s children and family members). Courts expect the job will be done effectively and in good faith.

Naming someone as the executor of the estate doesn’t mean that he or she will serve as personal representative. For instance, the person may die before the decedent, or may decide not to get involved.

Who Cannot Serve as a Personal Representative?

If you might serve as the personal representative to an estate, there are considerations that may mean you cannot fill that role. Our probate attorneys in Tacoma will be glad to talk through your unique situation if you are unsure whether you’re qualified. There are two general disqualifications: “inherent” and “innocent.”

Inherent Disqualification

There are many individuals and other legal entities who can’t legally serve as a personal representative, according to RCW 11.36.010:

  • Corporations: A company cannot serve as a personal representative, except companies designed for such responsibilities. Trust companies, national banks, and professional service corporations (i.e., law firms) can serve as personal representatives.

  • Minors: An individual who has not reached the age of majority (over 18 years old) may not be named personal representative.

  • Persons lacking legal capacity (unsound mind): This may be the result of advanced age or physical or mental illness.

  • Felons: Someone convicted of a felony in the past, or while acting as a personal representative, is disqualified from the role.

  • Misdemeanants of crimes regarding “moral turpitude”: These are crimes related to a breach of an affirmative, fiduciary obligation and connected to dishonesty. Though it may not carry the same possible sentence as a felony, the crime may show that someone shouldn’t be trusted with the access and control over an individual’s estate.

  • Nonresidents of the state who do not have a qualified resident agent.

In addition, under RCW 11.28.160, a superior court judge can remove and replace any personal representative “for any cause deemed sufficient.” Some examples include:

  • A personal representative was disqualified when it was found he fraudulently removed a decedent’s will from a safe deposit box and hid it.

  • A family member was disqualified due to his problems with creditors. This person had a long history of hiding property to avoid creditors.

Innocent Disqualification

There are also “innocent” disqualifications, which are:

  • Serious illness or death

  • Resignation

  • If the estate started without a will, but one is later found, the estate’s administrator may be removed.

Removal of a Personal Representative During Probate Due to Conduct During Their Handling of the Estate

A person can be removed from the role during the probate process because they failed to execute the trust faithfully and breached their fiduciary duty to the estate. RCW 11.28.250 lists reasons why a personal representative may be removed:

  • Waste, embezzlement, or mismanagement of the estate, or any situation suggesting that any of that is about to occur

  • Fraud upon the estate

  • Incompetency

  • Permanent removal from Washington

  • Neglecting the estate

  • Any other just cause.

To qualify for removal, the personal representative must be more than simply annoying, slow, or inefficient. A probate attorney seeking the personal representative’s removal would have to show actual damage (or that it was about happen) to the parties interested in the estate.

Often family members may be personal representatives and there may have been disagreements or dislike prior to the decedent’s death that worsened afterwards. This won’t be enough to justify the formal removal of the personal representative. One must show that the individual did something to harm the estate and the heirs.

“Any other just cause” can cover signs of dishonesty or hiding information when dealing with estate assets. If an estate asset is intentionally kept off the estate’s formal inventory, it won’t be used to pay creditors or be distributed to beneficiaries. This raises the possibility that the personal representative may plan on stealing it for their own use. Talk to our probate lawyer in Tacoma if you have concerns about a personal representative who will handle, or is handling, probate for an estate.

Attorney Thomas L. Dickson

Thomas L. Dickson

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

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Attorney Heather Burgess

Heather Burgess

Heather represents property owners and developers in all phases of real estate development, from pre-acquisition due diligence through local permitting and appeals.

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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 Trevor A. Zandell

Trevor A. Zandell

Since graduating with honors from law school in 2005, Trevor has been serving the legal needs of businesses, individuals, and families across Southwest Washington.

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Attorney Daniel E. Pizarro

Daniel E. Pizarro

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, 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 Alexander J. Wisbey

Alexander J. 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 Andrew Hata

Andrew Hata

Andrew is the head of our Transactional Department and focuses his practice on corporate governance, real estate transactions, commercial contracts, and corporate finance.

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Attorney Cambria A. Queen

Cambria A. Queen

Cambria is an Associate with Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess in the civil litigation department, where she practices primarily real estate and probate law.

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Attorney George Knight

George Knight

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, 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 Pierce-Wright

Chris Pierce-Wright

Chris comes to Phillips Burgess Tacoma from Seattle, where he served as an associate attorney focused on insurance litigation with Wilson Smith Cochran Dickerson.

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Attorney Jennifer Yoo

Jennifer Yoo

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

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Attorney Kenneth Chan

Kenneth Chan

As an associate at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, PLLC, Kenny is active in the firm’s civil litigation and transactional departments. Prior to working at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, Kenny was an in-house attorney for a Fortune 100 company.

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Attorney Brian Buske

Brian Buske

Following his graduation from Lewis & Clark Law School, Brian garnered valuable client experience working on international compliance and intellectual property issues.

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Attorney Matt Wand

Matt Wand

Matt was born and raised in East Multnomah County in the Gresham area where he lives and has raised his family. His wife of more than twenty-five years is Anne Wand and they have three children together.

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The Roles of a Probate Attorney and Personal Representative

Our Tacoma Probate Lawyers Explain Who Can Help Probate an Estate

A probate attorney and the personal representative of the estate are both recognized as “officers” of the court. A probate attorney helps the personal representative do their job in complying with court orders, state laws, and the will’s provisions.

The personal representative is obliged to act in good faith regarding the estate. A court once described it effectively in this manner:

“Under RCW 11.48.030, an executor is chargeable in his accounts for the whole estate of a deceased. The executor is an officer of the court and in a fiduciary relationship to those beneficially interested in the estate. He is obligated to exercise the utmost good faith and utilize the skill, judgment and diligence that an ordinarily cautious and prudent person would employ in the…management of his own affairs…. He must perform his duties not only for the benefit of the legatees but must also protect the estate from invalid and doubtful claims…while protecting the rights of valid creditors…. It is his duty to settle an estate as quickly as possible but without sacrifice to the estate…and he is liable for any breach of his responsibility which causes loss to another…. His trust must be fulfilled with conscientious fidelity whether his charge is large or small.” Wilson’s Estate v. Livingston, 8 Wn. App. 519, 527-528, 507 P.2d 902, 909 (1973).”

The personal representative’s responsibilities during the probate process include treating the decedent’s assets as though they were his own – and he is to act in an honest, cautious, prudent, and effective manner when handling and distributing the assets.

Risks for a Personal Representative of an Estate

Given the nature of the probate in question (especially if it’s sizable or complicated), as a personal representative, you would be very wise to seek legal counsel from our Tacoma probate attorney.

Because you could potentially be held personally liable for making errors, there’s a lot at stake. You may have to pay for those mistakes out of your own money and assets, not from the estate.

Our team of Tacoma probate attorneys are here to help protect your interests since the risks to you can be high. A personal representative has a fiduciary duty toward the estate and the heirs. A probate attorney who represents the estate also has fiduciary obligations to the personal representative and the estate’s heirs. If you’re a personal representative, you can protect yourself: get legal counsel. Our Tacoma probate lawyer can provide you with strategic, knowledgeable advice on how to proceed and protect yourself against liability. Get help today. Call our team at 253-572-1000.

When you seek help from a Tacoma probate attorney, the fees are generally paid from the estate.

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.

FAQs Our Tacoma Probate Attorneys Hear from Clients

Probate in Washington can be confusing, and applicable laws are hard to navigate. For this reason, you likely have many questions about the probate process and how to prepare for it. The following are some common questions our Tacoma probate lawyers hear:

Now is the right time to talk to Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess. If you have any assets or property, you and your family can benefit from creating an estate plan, especially if you have a spouse or children. It is a myth that you need to be older or particularly wealthy to call an estate planning attorney. If the estate plan is done properly and accounts for issues that may arise later, the probate process may be completed fairly quickly and without undue expense.

The assets subject to probate are those held in the decedent’s name at the time of their death that do not have designated beneficiaries.

The executor (male) or executrix (female) is a person nominated in a will as the personal representative. This should be someone trustworthy and capable of handling the estate and its many responsibilities. The court decides who will be the personal representative.

Depending on many issues, the probate process typically takes six months to a year. If the estate is complex or there are many legal challenges, it could go much longer. Speak with our Tacoma probate lawyer if you have concerns about how long probate of an estate may take.

A skilled estate planning lawyer can help you avoid putting your property through probate after you pass away. Forming trusts, titling real property in a certain way, and having payable-on-death accounts are only some examples of methods of avoiding probate. You may want to structure this so probate is unnecessary or have some property pass other ways so probate is simpler, faster, and less expensive. You need to weigh the costs and benefits of avoiding probate.

A judge, who acts as a neutral third party, oversees the probate process and ensures it’s complying with the law. The judge can resolve disputes that may come up. If handled properly, the estate may be able to end claims against it in a way that’s relatively quick and fair to all those involved.

A personal representative can publish (in a local newspaper) a formal notice of the probate court proceeding. If this is done and a notice is sent to all known creditors, they will have four months in which to file claims against the estate. If they fail to do so, their claims won’t be accepted. Otherwise, when such notices are not submitted, creditors have two years from the date of the person’s death to bring claims. Since publishing and mailing notices greatly shortens the time claims can be filed, that’s usually the route a personal representative will take.

If the debts are more than the estate’s assets, the personal representative, based on state law, decides which ones will be paid. A family allowance has the highest priority, then probate costs, funeral expenses, medical costs of the last illness and taxes. If this isn’t handled properly, a creditor who is short-changed can challenge how the estate is being handled.

The personal representative also must file final state and federal income tax returns for the deceased. The estate may also need to pay federal taxes if it is very large ($11.7 million or more) and an estate must be sizable for state taxes to apply ($2.193 million or more). Are you still worried about how debts or taxes will get paid in an estate? Does this information impact an estate currently in probate with which you’re connected? If so, our Tacoma probate lawyer can help. Reach out to our team to share the details of your situation and we’ll explain how to address each expense of a probated estate.

The ease or difficulty of probate is largely decided by the steps you take before death. Some of the many things you can do to simplify the probate process for your family include:

  • Think about your estate plan as a comprehensive package. While essential, a last will and testament is generally inadequate to address all of your estate planning needs. You may need to draft and sign other important documents and instructions as well. Our probate attorneys in Tacoma can explain all those options that apply to you and your priorities.

  • Don’t wait to design your estate plan. Accidents, injuries, and illnesses can happen at any time to people of all ages. If you are suddenly incapacitated, you want to ensure that your wishes are clear and that you and your family are properly cared for.

  • Carefully consider who you name as executor. Working as a personal representative requires time, energy, intelligence, organization, and patience. Make sure they’re willing and able to serve when the time comes. You can also name alternate executors in case something unexpected happens.

  • Review and revise your estate plan regularly. A will that you drafted after getting married will likely need to be updated after you have children or after they grow up. Your changing finances may also require more sophisticated estate planning tools as you get older.

  • Discuss your estate plans with your beneficiaries. If they’re disappointed or angry with your decisions, you can explain why you want your assets distributed in a certain way. You may restructure your plans so your family is on board and there is less chance of a legal challenge afterward.

  • Pay your taxes and bills. The more debt and taxes you leave unpaid at your death, the more the personal representative needs to deal with, and the less your beneficiaries will receive after they’re paid. It also increases the number of parties seeking your assets and potentially filing legal challenges to how your estate is handled.

One of your sure-fire ways to make probate easier is to depend on the trusted counsel of a Tacoma probate attorney who has extensive experience and detailed knowledge of the law. That’s why you should call our Tacoma probate lawyers at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess.


Do you have other questions about probate? Our Tacoma probate lawyer also handles estate planning services and can answer a wide range of legal questions that you may have. Rather than put yourself at risk of future legal proceedings, call us for help at 253-572-1000. If you want the probate process to go as smoothly as possible, let’s discuss your situation.

Get Our Attorney’s Help

Our Probate Attorneys in Tacoma Can Also Help You with Estate Law

Having a lawyer who is knowledgeable about probate laws in Washington can help save you time, energy, and stress during this process. Our team of skilled probate attorneys in Tacoma at the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess law firm regularly handle the following estate planning and probate matters:

  • Last will and testament

  • Power of attorney

  • Trust formation

  • Estate planning

  • Financial elder abuse recovery

  • Guardianship

  • Probate and estate administration

  • Trust accounting litigation

  • Undue influence in wills

  • Defective or contested trusts and wills

  • Probate litigation

  • Litigation for abused beneficiaries of trusts and wills.

When a loved one passes, it is often difficult to have to deal with the tasks of distributing his or her estate assets (and taking care of any lingering creditors). Probate attorneys in Tacoma have specific approaches to facilitate a probate case that’s sensitive to the clients’ recent loss.

For most of us, dealing with probate (and a probate attorney) is uncommon, which is a good thing. As a result, the probate process is a mystery to most people, including many attorneys. We hope this page will help you get a basic understanding of the probate process, when probate is needed, and why hiring our probate lawyer in Tacoma is a good investment.

Summary of the Probate Process

How Our Tacoma Probate Attorney Can Help at Every Stage

Estates are probated whether or not the deceased had a will. In practical terms, a probate has three stages. Probate’s length and cost is related to its complexity. Bear in mind that the effort required in progressing through each stage depends on the probate process and the complexity of the decedent’s estate.

Three Stages of Probate in Washington

Stage 1

The first stage of the probate process involves our Tacoma probate attorney preparing the necessary initial documentation that will be filed with the court. They include the petition to open the probate, the oath of the personal representative (the person administering the estate, subject to court control), and the proposed order appointing or approving the personal representative.

These pleadings serve to engage the court, and perhaps most importantly, have the court recognize the proposed personal representative. While our probate attorney may do much of the legal leg work in a probate case, the personal representative organizes it, inventories assets, decides what bills should be paid, and disburses remaining assets (if any) to beneficiaries. If someone is named as executor in a will, the person will probably be accepted by the court as personal representative. In extreme cases, the person could also be removed by the court for incompetence or wrongdoing. If there is no will, someone (normally a family member) should come forward and ask the court to be appointed as personal representative.

This first stage in the probate process typically takes most of our Tacoma probate attorney’s time. Not only are they called upon to draft specific probate documentation, but they may appear before the court as well. The process is very detailed and can be delayed, and made more expensive, if it’s not done properly. There are subtle, but especially important, notice requirements included in the initial stage.

Probate’s complexity is part of the reason you should retain our Tacoma probate attorney at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess. Even though the process may appear simple on the surface, it can be very complicated when all the various elements come together.

Stage 2

The second stage of a probate shifts from our Tacoma probate attorney to the personal representative. Probate is much more than preparing and filing pleadings. Its main purpose is to take possession and control of the decedent’s assets, determine their debts and prioritize them, pay what bills and taxes are required, then distribute assets based on the terms of the will (or state law if there is no will).

This process of putting the estate’s affairs in order can be difficult. It can be difficult to figure out where the various assets held by the decedent are located. The decedent may have investment accounts, annuities, or even life insurance policies that only the decedent knew about.

Stage 3

The third and final stage in probate occurs after the distributions have occurred, bills, taxes, and fees are paid. The personal representative did his or her job, and the matter is essentially ready to close.

Our Tacoma probate attorney prepares a pleading to be filed with the court stating the probate case has been successfully completed, known as the Declaration of Completion of Probate. It reports to the court that the process is complete and the personal representative should be discharged from their obligations.

Is Probate Required in Washington?

Is probate needed for all estates? If the decedent has a very small estate, has prepared carefully in life, or has little-to-no assets subject to probate, the answer is no. That situation is the exception, not the rule. Though probate can take time and money, avoiding it may be more so and not worth the effort. If you’re unsure whether probate is appropriate in your case, contact our Tacoma probate lawyers so we can review your situation.

Get Help from Our Skilled Tacoma Probate Attorneys

At Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, our Tacoma probate attorneys have helped many clients plan for the future. We understand your goal may be to ease the burden on your loved ones and to ensure your hard-earned property is distributed according to your wishes. We also know that probate can be a simple process, but sometimes it is highly complex. That’s why you should turn to our probate lawyers in Tacoma before you make any decisions regarding your probate matters.

We have the knowledge it takes to spot any potential issues, and we will keep you fully informed of your options and challenges.

Both the probate and estate administration processes and laws may be intimidating and confusing for many people (See RCW Title 11). The probate attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess are highly skilled in leading clients through the process in a highly efficient and professional manner. If you would like to discuss our probate and estate planning services, call our team of Tacoma probate attorneys today at 253-572-1000.