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Frequently Asked Questions About Probate in Washington State


You have probably heard the term “probate” in connection with the death of a family member or close friend. But you may not fully understand what it means. In this article, we will look at some of the more frequently asked questions about probate here in Washington State, and what you need to know when it comes to your own estate planning and the probate process.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the process of administering a deceased person’s estate.

Does Probate Require a Will?

No. If the decedent left a valid will, it is admitted to probate and its terms will direct the administration of the decedent’s estate. But if there is no will, the estate can still be administered according to terms established by Washington law. This is called an “Intestate Probate.”

Who Handles Probate Cases?

In Washington, probate is handled by the Superior Court. While probate may be opened in any county, typically it is done in the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death.

Who Administers a Probate Estate?

If there is a will, it will nominate a person to serve as Personal Representative of the probate estate. This position is often also called the Executor. If there is no will, the Superior Court will appoint an Administrator, who serves the same function as an Personal Representative. Washington law establishes who has priority to be named as an administrator.

What Happens During Probate?

After the court appoints an Personal Representative or Administrator, that person is responsible for carrying out a number of tasks, including:

  • notifying the potential heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, state, and other interested parties of the decedent’s passing;
  • collecting and managing any of the decedent’s probate assets;
  • paying any debts or expenses of administering the estate from the probate assets;
  • distributing any remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will or the heirs specified in Washington law; and
  • filing a final accounting with the court and closing the estate.

What Assets Are Subject to Probate?

Only property that was held in the decedent’s sole name and did not have a designated beneficiary (aside from the estate itself) is considered a probate asset. This means the following assets are not subject to probate:

  • assets held in a joint tenancy with another living person;
  • accounts with a “payable on death” or “transferable on death” beneficiary designation;
  • any property subject to a Community Property Agreement with a current or former spouse;
  • a life insurance policy with a named beneficiary other than the estate;
  • IRA and other retirement plans; and
  • property held in a revocable or irrevocable trust established by the decedent.

How Long Does Probate Take?

This depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the estate and whether there are any creditors who need to be paid. But in broad terms, you can expect the typical probate to take between 9 and 18 months.

Contact Moulton Law Offices Today

If you are looking to minimize or avoid the need for probate with respect to your own future estate, it is important to be proactive in working with an experienced Spokane estate planning attorney. Contact Moulton Law Offices, P.S., today to schedule a consultation. We serve clients throughout Spokane, Kennewick, and Yakima.

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