This is the "doing your homework — getting your ducks in a row" phase, so that when you do go to Court, you’ll sail through and come out with the prize — your Letters, authorizing you to administer the estate.
Washington law no longer requires a Death Certificate for the Decedent to open a probate; nevertheless, some Judges may wish to review one, for example, to obtain independent evidence whether Decedent was survived by a spouse. If convenient, obtain a certified copy of Decedent’s Death Certificate and take it with you to the hearing. There is no need to file it; simply have it available to hand to the Judge if he/she asks for it.
A probate for a Washington resident may be filed in the Superior Court of any county in Washington.
Go to 3 below.
Bottom-line: As long as all the parties to the probate have physical presence within Washington or willingly submit to the Court’s jurisdiction, a Washington Superior Court will have personal jurisdiction (ie, legal authority) over the parties to your case.
Bottom-line: A probate for a Washington resident may be filed in the Superior Court of any county in Washington. RCW 11.96A.050(3) If the probate is not filed in Decedent’s resident county at death, see: If Decedent Was a Resident of a Different County in Washington at Death.
Every new matter filed in a Washington Superior Court requires the filing of a Superior Court Case Information Cover Sheet. King and Pierce (and perhaps other) Counties have their own version of it. Select, complete, and sign the appropriate form from among the following three alternatives:
If Decedent died without a Will — Go to 5 below.
For discussion of any of the following, see:
Bottom-line: If you are in possession of a Will of a Decedent, Washington law requires you to either promptly:
Select, complete, and sign the appropriate form from among the following three alternative Petition for Letters forms, depending on:
See: RCW 11.68.011 re Petition for Nonintervention Powers.
Nonintervention Powers allow you to administer and close the estate without further interaction with, or supervision by, the Court.
- Decedent’s Will names you as Personal Representative, and
- 40 days have elapsed since Decedent’s death
For discussion of any of the following, see:
Bottom-line: You are eligible to obtain Nonintervention Powers if:
Note: Obtaining Nonintervention Powers under the "Catch-all" provision, however, requires either Notice to, or the written Consent of, each heir and beneficiary — see 7.b below.
- You qualify for Nonintervention Powers under any but the "Catch-all" provision, and
- 40 days have elapsed since Decedent’s death
Your Petition for Letters and Nonintervention Powers effectively consists of two different Petitions, each having separate notice requirements, avoidable as follows:
If Decedent’s Will waives Bond — Go to 9 below.
For discussion of any of the following, see: Avoiding Posting Bond:
If you are a Washington resident — Go to 10 below.
For discussion of any of the following, see: Avoiding Designating a Resident Agent:
The Issue: Courts don’t write Orders, they only sign them. You must prepare a proposed Order for the Judge’s review and signature, memorializing his/her approval of your Petition.
Select the appropriate form from among the following three alternatives:
Add the Header (ie, complete the top half of the first page: county, Decedent’s name, and Case. No. if available) and your contact information on the footer and sign it.
The Issue: You must file an Oath (a sworn statement by the Personal Representative promising to administer the estate according to law) in order to obtain your Letters.
After the Court appoints you as Decedent’s Personal Representative but before the Clerk will issue you Letters, you must file an Oath of Personal Representative (and any Bond that may be required). RCW 11.28.170
If Decedent named you to serve as his/her Personal Representative, complete the Header of an Oath of Personal Representative (With Will) form.
If you were not named to serve as Decedent’s Personal Representative, complete the Header of an Oath of Personal Representative (Without Will) form.
Unlike most other forms that you will use during your administration, all oaths of office must be "notarized." RCW 9A.72.085. So partially complete the appropriate Oath, take it to a notary, sign it in front of the notary, and have the notary "notarize" your signature.
Side-bar: Courts don’t provide notarial service, but private notarial services are available in some Courthouses; see, for example, Notary at King County Courthouse and Kent Regional Justice Center.
In consideration of your rendering services to the estate as Personal Representative, you are entitled to receive payment of compensation. If you wish to receive compensation for your services as Personal Representative, experience indicates that it is best to resolve issues surrounding your compensation before obtaining your Letters. See: Payment of Compensation to the Personal Representative & His/Her Attorney.
The Issue: Filing a Probate Notice of Creditors is the first of the statutory steps required in order to force Decedent’s creditors to promptly present their claims or be barred (in most cases) within the four-month Creditor’s Claim statute of limitations period.
If Decedent died within the last twenty months, complete and sign a: Probate Notice to Creditors form.
Choose a legal newspaper in the county of Decedent’s residence at death to publish your Probate Notice to Creditors and coordinate with them the date that it will be first published. See: Legal Newspapers & Costs of Publication Add that date to the line stating "Date of First Publication of this Notice." Ignore for the moment the line stating "Decedent’s Social Security Number."
If Decedent died over twenty months ago, then there is no reason to file and publish a Probate Notice to Creditors. (Exception: If you probate the estate in a county other than Decedent’s resident county at death, you are required to file and publish a Probate Notice to Creditors in the county of Decedent’s residence at death).
Telephone the County Clerk in the county where your probate will be filed (Telephone
Numbers) and ask to speak to the probate clerk:
Complete any of the foregoing requirements that may be applicable to you
See in general: Washington Probate Court Practice
And in particular:
By completing the foregoing instructions on this page, you will have completed the steps required to obtain your Letters for a typical probate estate.
The Issue: Having obtained your Letters, you must promptly send notice of your appointment to interested parties, namely, Decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries and, possibly, the state and federal governments, giving each of them the opportunity to take any actions they believe appropriate to protect their own interests as regards Decedent and the estate.
You must provide Notice of your appointment to each of the following individuals and, depending on the circumstances described below, agencies:
RCW 11.28.237 requires you to give written Notice of your appointment to every conceivable Heir or Beneficiary of Decedent’s combined probate and nonprobate estate. Who Are These "Heirs and Beneficiaries?" To satisfy this requirement:
Side-bar: Although not required by the pertinent statute (RCW 11.28.237), Constitutional due process requires that a copy of any Will of Decedent that was admitted to probate be included with the Notice of Appointment. This gives all recipients notice of the Will’s contents, so that if anyone desires, he/she may timely file a Will Contest. See Estate of Young, 23 Wn. App. 761 (1979).
Problem: An Heir or Beneficiary Resides Outside of the United States. Then:
For further information, contact:
U.S. Department of State
Office of Foreign Missions
2202 "C" Street NW, Room 2238
Washington, D.C. 20520
Problem: If Any Heir or Beneficiary Is Missing. Then file a Petition with the Court:
RCW 11.28.237(2) and 11.40.020(1)(d) require you to give written Notice to WDSHS. Before doing so, however, you will need to decide whether or not to publish a Probate Notice to Creditors (and, technically, do so within 30 days of your appointment). See: Handling Creditor’s Claims in general and Why Publish a Probate Notice to Creditors? in particular. WASHINGTON PROBATE strongly urges you to publish a Probate Notice to Creditors unless Decedent died over twenty months ago or you believe your specific situation is such that no reasonable benefit is likely to be gained from publishing — for example:
Practically speaking, however, all it takes is one unforeseen, illegitimate, or dilatory Creditor’s Claim to be filed and presented against the estate to make publishing a Probate Notice to Creditors (generally around $100) a remarkably sound investment. Please think long and hard before foregoing this opportunity.
Caution: The Notice sent to WDSHS is required to contain Decedent’s Social Security Number, but GR31 prohibits filing Social Security Numbers with the Court. Consequently, make sure that you place Decedent’s Social Security Number on the copy of any form you send to WDSHS but not on any form that you file with the Court.
Timing: Publish your Probate Notice to Creditors within 30 days of your appointment and thereafter promptly:
Download and print for your files the following IRS Publications and Forms:
If you submit a Form SS-4 by mail, it will likely take a month or two until you receive your EIN for the estate. You need your EIN in order to file a Form 56, which you should do promptly upon your appointment. Fortunately, you can apply for an EIN by either:
To apply by telephone:
Now that you have your EIN, complete and sign the Form 56, and mail its original to
Internal Revenue Service
Fresno, CA 93888-0002
As Decedent’s Personal Representative, your Letters evidence your official grant of authority. Chances are that when you deal with a third party on behalf of the estate, the third party (eg, a bank or brokerage) may want to see and possibly keep for its records, a copy of your Letters and may require additional evidence of your authority, such as:
If you move during your service as Personal Representative, you should inform the Court and all the other interested parties of your change of address. See:
You have now completed the steps required to open a typical probate estate and give notice of your appointment as its Personal Representative. Your next step is to begin your administration of the estate.