What is a Probate Estate vs. Non-Probate Estate?
Luckily, the probate process in Washington State is comparatively streamlined and simplified compared to other states. In most matters, you can expect minimal court involvement.
Probate Estates: Probate is the process of administering the estate of a deceased individual. If a will exists, the court will attempt to distribute the assets in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. If there is no will or the people named in the will are unwilling or unable to act, an administrator may distribute the estate.
Non-Probate Estates: Often, specific assets are not subject to probate. For example, (1) Assets held in a revocable living trust, (2) Assets held by the deceased person and another person who had a right of survivorship; (3) Assets controlled by a Community Property Agreement; (4) Certain assets with a beneficiary designation, e.g., life insurance, IRA’s, and 401Ks.
In these cases, the Probate process will look very different.
Do we have to file a probate matter with the court?
Washington state is a “no probate” state; meaning if no real estate is in the Estate, and the Estate contains $100,000 or less in value, then no probate is required to be filed.
There are also various ways to avoid probate, but these can vary based on your circumstances and the level of preparation in place before the Decedent’s passing.
Who is the Executor or Administrator?
The person named in the will! If there is no will, or the person named in the will isn’t available or willing to serve, the probate court will appoint an “administrator.” The surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, if any, has priority to be appointed as administrator. This person does the same job as an executor. Either is referred to as the estate’s “personal representative.”
The probate court issues a document called “Letters Testamentary” (to an executor) or “Letters of Administration” (to an administrator). This document is proof of the personal representative’s legal authority to collect and manage estate property.
Does the Executor/Administrator get paid?
The personal representative is entitled to collect a fee for the work performed for the estate. If the will includes directions for how to calculate the fee, they must be followed. If the will doesn’t mention fees—and most don’t—the amount is based on the amount of work done and must be approved by the court. Many personal representatives who inherit money from the estate choose not to take a fee, in part because the fee is taxable income.
How long does Probate usually take?
Probate in Washington typically takes six months to a year, depending on some choices the executor makes. It can take much longer if there is a court fight over the estate or unusual assets or debts that complicate matters. Unless there is a dispute, it’s mainly a matter of filing the right paperwork.
What is TEDRA?
When a loved one passes away, one or more of their family members might dispute parts of a will or trust. To address these situations the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA) was passed in Washington State. TEDRA also provides guidance on how to address improper administration of an estate. This can include, contested wills, improper disbursement, Issues regarding personal representatives, executors or trustees, trust litigation, and fiduciary claims.
If you need assistance filing a TEDRA Petition or responding to one, our team can help you get the representation you need.
How can I tell the estates creditors that the Decedent has passed?
In Washington, executors can choose whether to publish formal notice of the probate court proceeding. If the executor does publish a notice, and also sends it to all known creditors, creditors will have just four months in which to make claims against the estate. If they don’t, their claims will be barred. Otherwise, creditors have two years from the date of death in which to bring claims. An executor who is concerned about claims coming in later usually chooses to publish notice.
There are a variety of debts the estate owes, but there isn’t enough money to pay them all. What can be done?
If there’s not enough money in the estate to pay all debts, the personal representative must turn to state law, which prioritizes claims. The family allowance has the highest priority, followed by probate costs, funeral costs, expenses for the last illness and taxes. The list goes on; you’ll only need to worry about this if there isn’t enough money to pay all the bills. If that’s your situation, get legal advice before you pay any creditors.
This is very overwhelming. Where do I start?
The good news is we are here to help. Let our team triage your needs and advise you before you take your first steps into the realm of probate administration. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys and we can take it from there.