Your Probate Won’t Likely Close Within 12 Months
RCW 11.48.010 requires a Personal Representative to administer, settle, and close a probate estate “as rapidly and as quickly as possible, without sacrifice to the … estate.” As a general rule, most probates are able to be closed within 12 months, although exceptions abound, such as a probate having any of the following circumstances:
- A federal or state estate tax return to be filed;
- Substantial or significant assets to be sold;
- Substantial creditor problems to be resolved;
- Pending litigation (eg, a Will Contest, an income or estate tax dispute, a wrongful death action, etc.);
- A pending ancillary probate (eg, in another state for real property in that state);
Furthermore, Washington law and at least King County’s probate Court essentially make the presumption that a probate should close within 12 months, and that if it can’t, “there must be something wrong,” necessitating the estate’s Personal Representative to file with the Court a formal report of his/her administration, stating why the estate hasn’t closed, what’s needed to close it, and when its PR plans to close it. This page summarizes various actions available if you’re unable to close the estate within a year.
For good cause, King County will approve a request for an extension of time of up to 36 months to close a probate estate; the request may be made as early as upon the initial filing of the case. 2003 King County Probate Policy & Procedure Manual § 1.3. Consequently, upon opening your probate, if you believe there is any reasonable likelihood that circumstances may prevent you from closing it within 12 months, you should set forth those circumstances in your Petition for Letters and request from the Court an extension of time of up to 36 months. Requesting an extension of time is practical if you are already making a Court appearance, such as for obtaining your Letters. If you have no other need to make a Court appearance, a more practical solution is to file what is known as a Status Report.
For traditional estates (ie, “Court intervention” estates), a Personal Representative is required either:
- To close the estate within twelve months of his/her appointment, or
- To file what is commonly called a Status Report under RCW 11.76.010.
For nonintervention estates, any beneficiary who has not received all the property from the estate to which he/she is entitled by twelve months after the Personal Representative has obtained his/her Letters may petition the Court for an Order requiring the Personal Representative to promptly deliver to that beneficiary a Status Report under RCW 11.68.065. For further information about petitioning for such an Order, see: Status Report. Furthermore, many probate courts, especially King County’s, review probate cases that remain open longer than 12 months. If the probate Court’s file shows no apparent recent action, King County will mail the Personal Representative an Order on Case Review (an “OCR“) requesting the Personal Representative to promptly file with the Court either:
- The documents necessary to close the estate (ie, a Declaration of Completion of Probate), or
- A Status Report under RCW 11.76.010
In a Status Report, also called an Interim Report or a Report of Affairs of Estate, a Personal Representative describes his/her actions taken since appointment, generally including:
- An inventory of all property in the probate estate.
- An accounting of all funds received or paid (ie, income and expense).
- In the case of a Court intervention estate: A description of any sales, mortgages, leases, or exchanges of property.
- A list Creditor’s Claims presented, showing whether each was allowed or rejected.
- A statement of what needs to be done to close the estate and what the Personal Representative is doing to close it.
- An estimate of when the estate will be closed.
- And in the case where a beneficiary has successfully petitioned the Court to require the Personal Representative to furnish a Status Report under RCW 11.68.065: Such other information as the Court may require.
To review a typical Status Report, see:
- Status Report (With Will) (ie, Report of Affairs of Estate) & Declaration of Mailing form. or
- Status Report (Without Will) (ie, Report of Affairs of Estate) & Declaration of Mailing form.
In King County, Personal Representatives who fail to satisfactorily respond to an OCR are sent an Order to Show Cause (an “OSC“) requiring them to appear before the Court on its biweekly Probate Contempt Calendar. At that hearing, in the absence of an acceptable response, the Court will likely find the Personal Representative in contempt and take one or more of the following actions:
- Impose a fine (“sanctions”) on the Personal Representative.
- Remove and replace the Personal Representative.
- Close the estate “administratively.” See: Order Closing File Administratively. If your estate has been closed administratively and you need to re-open it, see: Re-Opening the Estate.
Side-bar: Since September, 2002, your author has voluntarily served as the intake attorney for King County’s biweekly Probate Contempt Calendar, assisting recipients of Orders to Show Cause with whatever they need to do to avoid being held in contempt, receiving a fine, being removed and replaced, etc. In his experience, the great majority of these cases fall into one of two categories:
- Personal Representatives who fail to timely file a Declaration of Completion of Probate and close their probate estate, or
- Guardians who fail to timely file a periodic (usually annual) Guardianship Accounting.
Bottom-line: As a Personal Representative, you need to either:
- Close your probate estate within 12 months, or
- Petition the Court for an extension of time to close it, or
- File a Status Report.