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Washington Probate Laws

Probate is the legal process through which property and other assets pass from you (the "decedent") to your beneficiaries after you die. In Washington, the probate laws do not always require a probate proceeding to be filed following death, regardless of whether the decedent died with or without a valid will. It's basically a discretionary proceeding, typically because someone wants it to be filed, not because the law requires it.

Reasons for Probate

If the decedent died in with any of the following you may need to file a probate proceeding:

  • Any real property titled in his or her own name, or
  • Personal property (usually a cash or securities account) titled in his or her own name only whose value exceeds $100,000.

Probate Process

If the case is going through a formal probate process, the court will appoint someone to handle the administration of estate, i.e. a Personal Representative . Many times the decedent will already have named the personal representative in his or her will. If not, the court or clerk of the court will appoint someone.

He or she must:

1) Assemble all the decedents assets;

2) Pay the bills (Funeral Expenses, Creditors, Taxes, and general administration expenses);

3) Distribute Any Assets that Are Left Over.

File the Will

Washington state law does require a resident's valid will to be filed promptly following death. This must happen regardless of whether or not the decedent's estate will be probated. The will should be filed with the Clerk's Office of the Superior Court in the decedent's resident county at death, generally within 40 days of decedent's death.

Other Types of Estate Administration

The process of administering the estate will vary depending on whether or not the decedent had a valid will and the type of probate administration the decedents estate will have to go through. In Washington, if a decedents estate is small enough, the law allows you to skip probate altogether and use a simplified process. Otherwise, you'll need to go through a formal probate process in court.

See Probate Court, State Probate Courts, Avoiding Probate, and Estate Taxes for more information.

Code Section Title 11 RCW et. seq.
Types of Probate Administration

1) Formal Probate

2) Small Estate: Can't use this process if:

  • For non-residents owning property within in the state
  • If a Petition for Appointment of Personal Representative is pending or has been granted in any jurisdiction
  • For a Decedent who died insolvent (i.e., having more debts than assets)
  • In the first 40 days after death
  • By a person who is not a "successor" of the Decedent
What Assets Go Through Probate?

Probate may be necessary when a person dies leaving property in his or her own name (such as a house titled only in the name of the decedent) or having rights to receive property. Also if the estate is worth over $100,000.

What Assets Skip Probate Entirely
  • Property in a Revocable Trust,
  • Real Estate Owned as Joint Tenants with a Right of Survivorship or Tenancy By the Entirety,
  • Life Insurance Policies and Retirement Accounts with a Designated Beneficiary,
  • Bank Accounts with Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) clause
  • Transfer on Death Deed (Effective June 2014). Your real estate avoids probate and transfers to a beneficiary upon your death. The beneficiary will not have any rights to your property while you are alive, but upon death the property will transfer to your beneficiary
  • Subject to a Community Property Agreement between Decedent and his/her surviving spouse
Estate Taxes Yes, Washington has an estate tax.
Where to Order Death Certificates

Washington State Department of Health

Washington probate laws can be tricky. Please consider contacting a local probate lawyer who can help you better understand the current rules and procedures.

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