How to Probate a Washington Descendant's Estate ---
To "Do It Yourself" without a Lawyer

Information Outline

How to Probate a Washington Decedent’s Estate

1

Determine What Does (and Does NOT) Need To Be Done

Someone (the “Decedent”) has died and you believe something legal needs to be done as a result of the Decedent’s death. Here’s a summary of what may or does need to be done and why.

2

DETERMINE IF PROBATE IS NEEDED, OR NOT

Probate in Washington is entirely discretionary, and probably only a few percent of deaths in Washington result in a probate being filed. This page describes why you may, or may not, want to file probate.

3

Determine What Does (and Does NOT) Need To Be Done

Someone (the “Decedent”) has died and you believe something legal needs to be done as a result of the Decedent’s death. Here’s a summary of what may or does need to be done and why.

4

DETERMINE IF PROBATE IS NEEDED, OR NOT

Probate in Washington is entirely discretionary, and probably only a few percent of deaths in Washington result in a probate being filed. This page describes why you may, or may not, want to file probate.

How to Probate a Washington Decedent’s Estate

For named, proposed, or acting Personal Representatives

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF PROBATE?

Probate is the legal process through which assets pass from the deceased person (decedent) to their beneficiaries after death. Probate allows the personal representative of the decedent, often a spouse or other close family member, to:

  • Collect and gather assets
  • Pay debts and taxes
  • Transfer assets to beneficiaries

Probate often prevents problems that lead to contesting of a will, because it allows court supervision of the estate distribution process and ensures that everything is done legally and properly. In addition, Washington State has one of the simplest probate systems in the nation and can save time and money because:

  • It allows the personal representative to act with authority and without court intervention on nearly all matters.
  • Attorney fees are not based on a percentage of the value of the estate.

Probate is not always required unless the decedent died with:

  • Real property titled in their name only, or
  • Personal property valued at over $100,000 in their name only.
  • Small Estate Affidavit: For transferring up to $100,000 of Decedent’s personal property without Court involvement
  • Adjudication Proceeding: For determining “Who Gets What” from an estate; no PR appointed
  • Nonintervention Probate “for Dummies”: Simplified instructions & forms for typical estates
  • Nonintervention Probate – Detailed: Opening | Administering | Closing
  • Administering Nonprobate Assets: Joint tenancy accounts, CPAs, IRAs, etc.; Handling Nonprobate Creditors’ Claims
  • An Insolvent Estate: Insufficient assets to pay Decedent’s debts
  • An Intestate Ward

WHEN CAN A PROBATE CASE BE CLOSED?

A probate case can be closed after the personal representative has paid all debts and taxes and distributed all assets to beneficiaries. All heirs and beneficiaries must sign a Receipt and Waiver document, or the personal representative must file more notices and documents. When the process is completed, the personal representative must formally request the court to close the probate case.

Top Probate FAQs

ANSWERS TO POPULAR PROBATE QUESTIONS

Probate is not mandatory in Washington State, but in the majority of cases it is beneficial to file for probate, even if you do not need to. This is because complex estate issues arise frequently, and most people are not equipped to handle them without the assistance that probate provides. During probate, the court will oversee the process of administering an estate by collecting assets, settling debts, and making distributions to family members, and it can resolve any disputes. You should always file probate if the estate is more than $100,000 or if there is real property that cannot be transferred any other way.

There are several ways to find out whether probate has been filed in Washington. You can:

  • File a Washington superior courts case search online by entering Case Type: Probate/Guardianship.
  • Call the Superior Court Clerk’s Office of your county and ask. In King’s county the number is 206 296-9300.
  • Go down to your county Clerk’s office in person and search on their computers under “Search for Case Numbers from 1979 – Present (SCOMIS).”
  • Go to WaCourtsOnline.com, where you can perform a statewide, one-name, SCOMIS search for $8.95.

Searches are limited to the data available on SCOMIS, and documents that have been ordered “sealed” are not available.

You can get a copy of documents which have been filed in several ways:

  • In person by going to the Clerk’s office at your county courthouse. In King’s County, you can enter the probate case number on an “Electronic Court Record” ECR computer that lists documents filed in the case and order a plain or certified copy of unsealed documents.
  • By mail, by writing your county Superior Court Clerk’s Office and enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope with a check for $25.
  • By private attorney service for a fee, if you need copies within a day. Some King County services are: NW Legal Support, Inc.; Attorney’s Information Bureau.

Probate fees in Washington are either:

  • The amount set by the Decedent in the will or
  • If there is no specified amount, the amount determined by the Court to be “reasonable and just.”

If the Decedent sets an amount for compensation, the named Personal Representative may elect either:

  • Default Alternative: To accept that amount as full compensation regardless of the amount of work to be performed, or
  • Active Alternative: To renounce that amount in writing prior to being appointed and allow the Court to determine “reasonable and just” compensation.

The Personal Representative can also waive compensation.

Some of the ways to avoid probate include:

  • Living Trusts – creates a trust document for your assets that will transfer to beneficiaries after death.
  • Joint Ownership –with “right of survivorship,” allows the surviving owner to automatically own the property.
  • Community Property Agreements — when one spouse dies, their property is converted to community property and passes to the survivor.
  • Payable-on-Death – designations on bank accounts allow beneficiaries to claim the money directly from the bank after death.
  • Transfer-on-Death Registration for Securities — allows beneficiaries to inherit the account automatically at your death.
  • Transfer-on-Death Deeds for Real Estate — lets you sign and record the deed now, but your named beneficiary has no rights until your death.