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Probate & Estate Administration
Probate is the court-supervised process of settling the estate of a person who has died, including gathering and distributing their property to those named in the will or entitled under state statute if there is no will.
Legal services in this area include:
Petitioning for Appointment of Personal Representative (RCW 11.28)
Publishing notice to creditors (RCW 11.40.020)
Creating an inventory (RCW 11.44)
Preparing a declaration of completion (RCW 11.68)
Preparation and negotiation of TEDRA agreements (RCW 11.96a)
Notices regarding to settlement of trusts (RCW 11.98.072)
Petition for family award (RCW 11.54).
Small Estate Affidavit (RCW 11.62)
Administration under Community Property Affidavit (RCW 26.16.120)
Preparing transfer documents such as deeds or LLC assignments of interest.
Estate of Absentee (RCW 11.80)
Tasks associated with the creation of a Testamentary Trust.
Washington State has a streamlined probate process compared to some other states (e.g. California) and the court may be minimally involved after the appointment of the Personal Representative.
A probate proceeding can provide a helpful structure to resolve estate debts, document notices to interested parties, appoint someone to handle the many tasks involved with an estate, and have a judge available to decide disputed issues within the estate.
On the other hand, sometimes I get calls from people trying to access an account in the name of someone who has died, and they are disappointed that the bank is telling them they need something from the court (“Letters”) to access the account and that they cannot just hand the bank the will showing they are the named executor.
There are estate planning steps a person can take to avoid the need to open a probate to transfer assets. Also, when the estate involves no real estate and less than $100,000 then there is a small estate affidavit procedure that can help family members access an account outside of probate.
I like helping families with estate administration legal services because I can usually quickly address the client’s concern (e.g. get them appointed as Personal Representative so they can have power to make decisions for the estate and gather assets). Also, the steps involved are clear and practical (e.g. there is an account that needs to be gathered and distributed).
Troubled relations is the most common complication in estates. Disagreements among beneficiaries who are unable to compromise is tragic because estate assets can quickly be eroded by litigation.
On occasion an estate will have substantial debt and there are protections under the Family Award statutes (RCW 11.54) that I have used to protect a surviving spouse from the decedent spouse’s debt and retain some assets personally.
Even when a probate is not required because all assets are owned by a trust or pass by beneficiary designation on an account. Publishing notice to creditors pursuant to RCW 11.40.020 could be a wise step along with other notices (RCW. 11.98.072).
A Washington State specific resource on Probate (forms and instructions) is located here.