Skip to main content
Seattle, Tacoma, Portland Olympia Attorneys

What Is Simplified Probate In Washington?

What Is Simplified Probate In Washington?

If you are settling the estate of a loved one who passed away in Washington state, you may wonder if you need to go through the full probate process or if a simpler option is available. In certain cases, Washington law allows for a streamlined process called “simplified probate.” Working with an experienced probate lawyer in Seattle, Washington can determine if your loved one’s estate qualifies for simplified probate.

Need Legal Help? Let’s talk

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of validating a deceased person’s will (if they had one), identifying and inventorying their property and assets, paying any taxes/debts owed by the estate, and dispersing the leftover assets to the beneficiaries designated in the will or to the heirs determined by state law if there was no will. In Washington, probate is overseen by the Superior Court in the county where the deceased person lived.

The full probate process can be time-consuming and expensive, often taking several months to a year or more. It also requires a lot of paperwork and court appearances. However, probate is important in ensuring the deceased person’s final wishes are carried out and their estate is properly settled.

What is Simplified Probate?

Recognizing that full probate is not always necessary, especially for smaller estates, Washington law provides an alternative called “simplified probate.” Also known as “small estate probate,” this process allows certain estates to be settled more quickly and with less court oversight than regular probate.

To qualify for simplified probate in Washington, the estate must meet the following requirements:

  • The value of the estate’s probate assets must be $100,000 or less. Probate assets generally include individually owned assets like bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and personal possessions. Assets that pass directly to a beneficiary, such as life insurance proceeds and jointly owned property, are not considered probate assets.
  • At least 40 days must have passed since the deceased person’s death.
  • There must not be any pending lawsuits or creditor claims against the estate.

If the estate meets these criteria, the personal representative (or the executor) can file a special form called a “Small Estate Affidavit” instead of initiating a full probate proceeding. This sworn statement lists the deceased person’s probate assets and their values, the names of the beneficiaries or heirs entitled to inherit them, and a few other key details.

How Does Simplified Probate Work?

The simplified probate process works as follows:

  • The personal representative obtains the Small Estate Affidavit form from the county Superior Court or downloads it from the court’s website.
  • The personal representative fills out the affidavit, listing all probate assets worth $100,000 or less, any outstanding debts or taxes owed by the estate, any claims filed by creditors, and the names of the beneficiaries/heirs. They must swear under oath that the information is true and correct.
  • The personal representative files the completed affidavit with the proper Superior Court, along with a certified copy of the death certificate and a filing fee (currently $200). If the deceased person had a will, the original signed will must also be filed.
  • The court reviews the affidavit. If everything is in order, the court will authorize the personal representative to collect the probate assets and distribute them to the rightful beneficiaries/heirs.
  • The personal representative presents a certified copy of the Small Estate Affidavit to collect assets from banks, financial institutions, and other entities possessing estate property. The affidavit acts as legal proof of their authority to claim the assets on behalf of the estate.
  • The personal representative pays all outstanding debts and taxes from the estate funds as long as sufficient funds are available. If not, the personal representative may need to sell some estate assets to cover these expenses.
  • After debts and taxes are paid, the personal representative distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will, if any. If there was no will, Washington’s intestate succession laws determine which family members inherit and in what order of priority.
  • The simplified probate process is complete once all assets have been collected and properly distributed. Unlike full probate, there is no need to file a final accounting or obtain court approval before closing the estate. The personal representative’s responsibilities are concluded.

Benefits of Simplified Probate

The main advantages of using the simplified probate process are:

  • It is faster than regular probate. Simplified probate can often be completed in weeks instead of months or years.
  • It involves minimal court oversight, which means less paperwork, fewer legal technicalities, and no requirement to appear at court hearings.
  • It provides an efficient way to transfer assets to beneficiaries and wrap up estate affairs so the family can move forward.

What Assets are Subject to Simplified Probate?

Only assets considered “probate assets” count toward the $100,000 limit for simplified probate in Washington. Probate assets generally include:

  • Assets owned solely in the deceased person’s name, such as bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, vehicles, and personal possessions.
  • The deceased person’s share of assets owned as “tenants in common” with others, such as certain types of real estate.
  • Assets for which the deceased person named their estate as the beneficiary.

Probate assets do not include:

  • Assets that pass directly to a named beneficiary outside of probate, such as life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts, and “payable-on-death” bank accounts.
  • Assets the deceased person owned jointly with right of survivorship, such as a house owned as “joint tenants with right of survivorship” or a jointly-held bank account. These assets pass automatically to the surviving co-owner.
  • Assets held in a trust.
  • Real estate located in another state must generally go through probate in that state.

To determine which assets are part of the probate estate and subject to the $100,000 limit, the personal representative should list everything the deceased person owned, how each asset was titled, and whether a beneficiary was named to inherit the asset directly. It’s best to consult with a knowledgeable probate attorney when in doubt.

What are the Responsibilities of the Personal Representative in Simplified Probate?

The personal representative is key in administering an estate through full or simplified probate. This person is typically anointed in the deceased person’s will or selected by the court if there is no will.

In simplified probate, the personal representative’s core duties include:

  • Identify, locate, and value all probate assets the deceased person owns at the time of their death. This involves reviewing financial records, accessing safe deposit boxes, and tracking down personal possessions.
  • Determining the names and addresses of all designated beneficiaries named in the will or the legal heirs who stand to inherit if there was no will.
  • Preparing and filing the Small Estate Affidavit with the court, the death certificate, the original will (if any), and the filing fee.
  • Collecting probate assets from financial institutions, government agencies, and anywhere else they are held by presenting a certified copy of the Small Estate Affidavit as proof of legal authority. This may involve closing accounts, selling or transferring property, and liquidating assets as needed.
  • Paying any outstanding debts, taxes, and administrative expenses of the estate using estate funds. If there is insufficient cash to cover these obligations, the personal representative may need to sell estate assets.
  • Distributing the leftover assets to the proper beneficiaries or heirs as designated in the will or determined by state law. This includes securing signed receipts from each beneficiary.
  • Keeping all beneficiaries reasonably informed throughout the process.
  • Responding to minor issues or questions and consulting a probate lawyer for guidance.
  • Wrapping up loose ends and ensuring the estate is fully settled before considering their work done.

While serving as personal representative is a significant responsibility, simplified probate aims to make the process more manageable, especially if the deceased person’s estate is relatively modest and uncomplicated. As long as the personal representative acts in good faith, with reasonable care and diligence, and follows the law, they are generally shielded from personal liability.

Who Should Hire a Probate Lawyer?

If you find yourself involved in settling the estate of a deceased loved one in Washington state, it is almost always in your best interest to at least consult with an experienced probate lawyer. This is true whether the estate is eligible for simplified probate or requires full probate.

While you are not legally required to hire an attorney, having knowledgeable legal counsel in your corner provides peace of mind during a stressful and emotionally challenging process. A Washington probate lawyer can guide you through the necessary steps, follow proper procedures, avoid costly mistakes, and provide support and representation if any disputes or complications arise.

You should strongly consider retaining a probate lawyer if:

  • You have been named personal representative in a will or appointed by the court to administer an estate. A probate lawyer can advise you of your duties, explain the legal requirements, and ensure you perform your role properly.
  • You are a beneficiary of an estate and want to protect your rights and interests. A probate lawyer can review the will, assess the administration of the estate, and advocate on your behalf if any issues arise.
  • There are conflicts among beneficiaries, challenges to the validity of the will, objections from creditors, or any other legal controversies surrounding the estate. A probate lawyer can represent your interests and work to resolve these issues efficiently.
  • The estate includes complex assets like business interests, commercial real estate, or out-of-state property that may require special handling during probate.
  • The estate is large enough to potentially trigger estate tax filing requirements at the state or federal level. A probate lawyer can coordinate with tax professionals to meet these obligations.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, confused, or unsure about any aspect of the probate process, you need trustworthy guidance and support.

Even in simplified probate, there are many moving parts to manage and important deadlines to meet. Having a skilled Washington probate attorney by your side can lighten the burden considerably and give you confidence that you are doing things correctly.

How to Find the Right Probate Lawyer for Your Situation

When seeking a probate lawyer to guide you through simplified or full probate in Washington, it is important to find an attorney well-versed in the relevant laws and procedures and a good fit for your unique situation and needs.

Here are some tips for choosing the right lawyer:

  • Look for a lawyer who focuses on probate and estate administration: While many general practice lawyers may be willing to take on a probate case, you will be best served by an attorney who focuses specifically on this area of law and has extensive experience with the Washington probate process.
  • Schedule consultations with a few different probate lawyers: Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so you can get your questions answered without pressure to hire them on the spot.
  • Consider the lawyer’s location and availability: It is beneficial to hire a lawyer familiar with the probate court where you need to file the case. Ensure the lawyer has the bandwidth to give your case the attention it deserves.
  • Discuss fees upfront and make sure you understand the lawyer’s billing structure: Some probate lawyers bill hourly, while others charge flat fees for certain services. Make sure you are clear on what costs you will be responsible for and how they will be paid.

Choosing the right Washington probate lawyer can make a difference in the outcome for all involved. Finding a skilled, compassionate attorney who understands your unique situation is an investment in your peace of mind and your loved one’s legacy.

Contact a Washington Probate Lawyer Today

By working with an experienced Washington probate lawyer, you can determine whether your loved one’s estate qualifies for simplified probate and get trusted guidance and support to navigate the process from start to finish. With the right legal counsel, you can honor your loved one’s final wishes and administer their estate properly and efficiently.

If you are ready to talk to a compassionate, knowledgeable probate attorney about your situation, reach out for help. Contact a Washington probate lawyer today to schedule a consultation.