The Issue: Among all the Courts that have legal authority, and given the particular facts and circumstances of this case, what is the location of the Court that is the most appropriate to hear and decide it? Venue is discretionary, meaning that so long as the Court has jurisdiction, it can agree to hear a case although it lacks venue.
Essentially, RCW 11.96A.050 provides that the proper venue (ie, location) for the probating of Wills and administering of Decedent’s estates is:
- For Washington residents: The county of Decedent’s residence at death.
- For Washington non-residents:
- The county where Decedent died, or
- Any county in which the Decedent left property subject to probate or, if none subject to probate, any county in which Decedent left property not subject to probate.
Technically, RCW 11.96A.050(3) provides that venue for a probate estate “may be in any county in the state of Washington.” Consequently, a probate estate for a Seattle, King County Decedent may be filed in Spokane or Walla Walla or wherever else in Washington besides King County and vice versa:
- Problem #1: The Court, exercising its discretionary powers, could decline to hear it.
- Problem #2: An interested party (eg, a beneficiary, heir, or creditor) could object and request that the matter be transferred to a more appropriate county, eg, the county of Decedent’s residence at death. In that case, the statute expressly provides that so long as the request is made within four months after the mailing of the Notice of Appointment of Personal Representative, the Court is required to transfer the matter unless good cause is shown for keeping it in the county as filed.
- Problem #3: If the Decedent was a resident of Washington at his/her death and the estate is probated in a county other than the county of Decedent’s residence at death, then a Probate Notice to Creditors must be published in the county of Decedent’s residence at death. RCW 11.40.020(1)(b)
Bottom-line: Unless good cause can be shown for filing it in another county, a Petition for Letters regarding a Washington Decedent is best filed in the Superior Court in the county in which the Decedent resided at death.