If your loved one left behind a smaller estate, you may ask yourself, what is simplified probate? It’s the legal process for settling the affairs of a person who has passed away. Some estates qualify for simplified rules within the probate system. If you want to learn where an estate stands and which kind of probate applies, contact Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess for help.
The superior court oversees the probate process. The process determines whether a will is genuine and appoints a personal representative to take charge of the estate. During the probate process, creditors may be allowed to collect debts the deceased owed when he or she died.
Washington Probate Basics
Not all property or assets need to pass through probate. A good rule of thumb to know if property is subject to probate (or not) is whether a document exists which controls that property. Below is list of the most common examples:
- A community property agreement. Community property is what a person and his/her spouse or state-registered domestic partner own during their marriage or state-registered domestic partnership
- A trust (a legal document setting aside property or assets to benefit someone)
- Being named to get benefits of an insurance policy or individual retirement account (retirement accounts allow for the designation of beneficiaries of the account and thus, the policy or retirement paperwork control the distribution of the the respective assets rather than the will)
- Passing property by law via the nature of title to real property (this is done through jointly-owned property that has a right of survivorship component within the deed — most often, these are called “joint tenancies with rights of survivorship”).
How Do You Know if an Estate Can Go Through Simplified Probate?
Whether and how an estate (the deceased’s property, assets, and debts) is probated depends on many things. This includes its value, what it’s made of, and how assets are legally titled. In some cases, informal methods could transfer property without the court’s involvement.
Most probate proceedings start with a petition filed in court. If there’s no will, a petition for letters of administration is filed. Many times, the process is simple and there’s little direct court involvement. Usually, legal documents are created and filed with one or two later court hearings. A personal representative is appointed to start managing the estate.
A will probably names an executor, who will likely be the estate’s personal representative. That person gets “letters testamentary” which serve as documents authorizing the personal representative to act on behalf of the estate (think of receiving of letter testamentary as being deputized to do work on behalf of the estate). Without a will, the court names an administrator whose duties are the same as a personal representative. No matter the title, the person collects, organizes, and manages property, assets, and the deceased’s money. He or she also settles the estate (pays debts, bills, and taxes, with anything left over going to next of kin or beneficiaries).
Simplified Probate in Washington Means Less Court Involvement
Through a simplified probate process, the court may allow the personal representative to distribute the assets without the court’s involvement. Personal representatives need to make written requests with the courts for simplified probate procedures for small estates. A court may allow this, known as “settlement without court intervention,” if the estate has enough assets to pay debts and taxes, and the personal representative was named executor in the will.
Other Scenarios Where the Court May Approve a Simplified Probate Process
- If there is no will, the surviving spouse or domestic partner makes the request for simplified probate.
- Another case in which there can be simplified probate is when the estate is only community property and the deceased left no children or grandchildren from another relationship.
- A simplified probate process may also be granted if the personal representative isn’t a creditor of the deceased and the court decides it’s in the best interests of the estate’s creditors and beneficiaries.
Just like “normal” probate, under simplified probate in Washington, the personal representative collects and organizes estate assets and debts, pays claims, and files an accounting (an explanation of the estate’s finances). The personal representative can request that the court close the estate. This order would either:
- State that the personal representative paid all approved claims, list those who should receive property, and order the property be distributed to these people, or,
- Approve the personal representative’s accounting and order the case closed.
Simplified Probate Procedures for Small Estates Drawing to a Close
Simplified probate procedures for small estates include the personal representative’s asking for payment for his or her services, for attorney’s fees, and payment to other professionals (such as accountants or appraisers). The personal representative would give notice to all those inheriting from the estate and known creditors before filing this application.
Without this application for a court order, the personal representative must file a declaration stating:
- The deceased’s date of death and address
- Whether the deceased had a will
- The names, addresses, and relationships to the deceased for each heir
- The share for each heir, if there is no will
- The personal representative paid all presented creditor claims
- The personal representative paid estate taxes
- The fees paid for the personal representative and any lawyers, appraisers, and accountants
- The personal representative believes these fees are reasonable and they don’t require a court order
- The personal representative completed all responsibilities
- The estate is ready to be closed.
The personal representative must mail a copy of this declaration to each heir and beneficiary after it’s filed. The mailing must explain the declaration’s purpose and power.
Simplified probate won’t work for all estates, but it may mean less time, energy, expense, and delay compared to most estates that don’t qualify. You may have many fears and misunderstandings about the complexity of probate of an estate. Even simplified probate can seem overwhelming to a personal representative not familiar with the process and to the heirs.
The Right Attorneys for Simplified Probate in Washington
If you’re named as an executor in a will or need to step up to administer an estate, hiring an experienced Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess attorney to help you through the probate process could lift a huge burden off you. Probate can be complicated and intimidating, but that might not be the case when you get the right advice. With our help, you’ll know your loved one’s estate is managed correctly and you will be secure from personal liability.
Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess attorneys are the legal consultants you should turn to when you need help with handling probate in Seattle. A free, 15 minute phone consultation is available when you call us at 206-621-1110.