Probate is the legal process by which property and other assets pass from the decedent (the person who has died) to his or her heirs and beneficiaries after death. In Washington, probate is not always a required procedure, even if the person dies without a will. It is typically a discretionary procedure but is required in certain situations, such as when real estate needs to be transferred or sold, or if there is an estate larger than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).  

Reasons for Probate

If the decedent died with any of the following, you would probably need to file a probate proceeding:

Any real property titled in his or her name, and/or personal property, including a bank account or securities account, titled in his or her name, whose value exceeds one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).  

Probate Process

If the matter is going through the formal probate process, the court will appoint someone to handle the administration of the estate.  If the decedent died with a will, then the court will appoint the individual who is named the Personal Representative, also known as Executor, of the estate. If the decedent died intestate (without a will), then the court will appoint an individual who is legally qualified and able to administer the estate.  This person will be named the Administrator. The Executor/Administrator must marshal all of the decedent’s assets, pay the final bills of the estate, like funeral expenses, creditors, taxes and general administration expenses, and then distribute to heirs and beneficiaries any assets that are left over. 

Filing the Will

If the decedent died with a will, then Washington law requires the will to be filed promptly after death with the court. The will must be filed whether the estate needs to go through the formal probate process or not. The will should be filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court in a Washington court; typically, in the resident’s county at death, but the law allows for the will to be filed in any Washington court, as long as the decedent died in Washington.  The will must be filed within forty (40) days of death. 

Other Estate Administration Types

The process of administering an estate may vary depending on 1) whether the decedent had a valid will; and 2) the type of probate administration required for that decedent. In Washington, if the decedent’s estate is small and simple enough, then the law allows one to do a small estate administration. This is a simplified process by which an Executor or Administrator can make a notarized oath stating that all assets are being distributed to the proper heirs and/or beneficiaries. Otherwise, the estate will need to go through the formal probate process.  If the decedent had all assets in a revocable trust, and they are all titled correctly in the name of the trust, it is possible that a probate will not need to be opened. 

How Do I Know Whether I Need to File a Probate? 

When a loved one dies, whether with a will or not, there are many legal issues that must be addressed.  It is wise to obtain legal advice after a death to make sure you are handling the estate properly.  Contact an experienced estate and probate attorney who can help you through this process.