Probate FAQ's

What is probate?

Washington’s probate system is among the simplest and least expensive in the nation. Probate is the legal procedure for settling the affairs of an individual who has died and for transferring the decedent’s property to the rightful beneficiaries. The procedure validates the will and appoints a Personal Representative to administer the estate.

What is a will contest?

A will contest is a legal action that challenges the validity of a will and/or the terms of the will. A will may be invalid if it was the result of forgery, undue influence, inadequate execution, or other issues.

What type of assets are typically non-probate assets?

Non-probate assets can be transferred without oversight by the probate court. Some examples of non-probate assets are proceeds from life insurance policies, an IRA account, a 401(k) account or any other taxed deferred retirement plan account with a named beneficiary.

What role does the executor play in the probate process?

The executor, also known as the Personal Representative, is responsible for initiating the probate proceeding, collecting and inventorying assets, paying debts owed by the estate, filing and paying taxes, distributing assets to the beneficiaries, and closing the estate. Because of the numerous details and technical requirements that must be satisfied, attorneys experienced in probate and estate administration are often employed to guide the executor through the probate process. The executor is entitled to compensation for time and expenses spent during the process.

Are there ways to avoid the probate process?

Washington is a community property state. If you and your spouse have signed a Community Property Agreement, all assets will pass to the surviving spouse without the probate process. There are several methods to use to avoid the probate process. These methods include creating a joint ownership with right to survival in property such as real estate, automobiles and other titled property; making beneficiary designations on accounts such as payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts and transfer-on-death (TOD) securities; and placing property in a revocable living trust. Your attorney can help you manage your property to avoid probate and to transfer property smoothly to your beneficiaries after your death.

What are the advantages of avoiding a probate proceeding?

The Washington probate process requires at least four months to complete, However, the probate process can be slow and can tie up property any where from several months to several years. In addition, it can be costly since attorney fees, executor fees and court fees are paid out of the estate.

What happens to my property if I don’t have a will?

In the absence of a will, property will be distributed through a process known as intestacy. If someone dies intestate, the community property passes to the spouse or state registered domestic partner.  If there are surviving children, the surviving spouse will also receive one half of the decedent’s separate property. If there are no surviving children, but one or more of the decedent’s parents survive, the surviving spouse receives three quarters of the net separate property in addition to the community property.  There are additional levels of distribution if there are also no surviving parents, the probate attorney can explain this if necessary. 

What is a revocable living trust?

A revocable living trust is a type of trust that takes effect during the testator’s life and can be changed or terminated at any time with the property returning to the testator. The testator also can retain control over the property in the trust by naming themselves as the trustee and naming a successor trustee to take over trust administration at the testator’s death. These trusts are often used as a means to avoid probate because the title of property is transferred to the trust and is not considered property of the testator at his or her death, thus making the property unavailable for probate.