An Outline of the Washington Probate Process – and How to Avoid It

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All states—including Washington—employ a legal process to close residents’ estates after they pass away. This legal process is referred to as probate.  In Washington, the probate process can be long and arduous – often taking 6-12 months or longer. Typically, an attorney is hired to navigate the process which can be costly. At Harbor Law Firm, we help you create a plan so you can avoid the probate process.

After Someone Passes Away

The first step in the probate process is to name the personal representative, who is responsible for making sure the estate’s assets go to the right places. Often, a decedent’s Last Will and Testament names the personal representative. The personal representative is also known as an executor.

The executor or personal representative must admit the Will in Superior Court within 40 days of the decedent’s death. Once the Will is filed, a four-month countdown begins. During these four months, certain people may challenge the validity of the Will. If the personal representative publishes a notice in the local newspaper, creditors also have four months to bring claims against the estate. If the personal representative does not post a notice, creditors typically have two years to bring claims.

Gathering Assets

As soon as the personal representative receives authorization from the Superior Court, he or she begins gathering probate assets. This includes real property and assets held solely in the decedent’s name. Some assets, including those held in a living trust or owned jointly with a surviving spouse, will probably not have to pass through probate. 

After gathering probate assets, the personal representative must determine whether or not the estate is solvent (more assets than debts). Funeral expenses, debts, and final taxes must be paid. Once the estate has no more financial obligations, the remaining assets (if there are any) may pass to beneficiaries under the Will (or Washington intestacy laws, if there was no Will). 

Must All Estates go through Probate?

No, not all estates in Washington must go through probate. Estates worth less than $100,000 usually do not need to be probated. Also, estates that have planned in advance also avoid the probate process. Probate avoidance can be accomplished by planning for each of your assets – such as your home and your retirement and investment accounts. Using a revocable living trust avoids probate and also has the benefits of privacy (your documents are not made public) and planning for incapacity.

Harbor Law Firm knows the probate process well. Because we know the probate process well, we almost always recommend our clients try to avoid the process altogether. Our experienced team regularly implements a number of strategies to help Washingtonians avoid the unnecessary time and cost of probate. The more effective your estate plan is, the more of your hard-earned success you can pass on to your heirs. Get in touch with us today to schedule your free consultation.

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