Origins of Washington Probate
Dear Website Viewer,
I’d like to tell you about the Washington non-profit and IRS § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation WASHINGTON PROBATE and the website it sponsors, WA-Probate.com, and how they came into being After retiring from my estate and probate specialty practice in Los Angeles, I moved to the Seattle area. In 2000, I began volunteering for the King County Superior Court — from 2000-05 for its Guardianship Monitoring Project, more recently for its Volunteer Probate Panel, where from 2002-05 I served as the intake attorney for the Court’s Probate Contempt Calendar, every 2nd and 4th Wednesday afternoon, and beginning in 2006, I serve as the intake attorney for the Court’s Probate Review Calendar every 2nd Thursday afternoon. There, I observed an ongoing need for probate instructions and probate forms — not only among pro se litigants but for occasional practitioners as well — for probating and especially for closing a Decedent’s probate estate. Seeing an opportunity to “give something back,” I determined to create those instructions and forms and on March 2, 2003, published my results at this Internet website.
WA-Probate.com & Probate-Litigation.com (for heirs and beneficiaries) are public service websites that provides step-by-step probate instructions and free legal forms for pro se litigants (ie, persons without lawyers) and attorneys who wish to either:
- Probate a Washington Decedent’s estate that qualifies for Nonintervention Powers (as probably over 99% of them do); or
- Challenge the actions of an acting Personal Representative.
In tandem with the instructions, the website also provides interactive legal forms in Word format, readable with Microsoft Word (or Office, which contains Word, etc.). These legal forms are “Interactive,” in that they can be filled in on your computer and then printed out, resulting in a fully-typed, professional-looking document that looks like it might have come from a law office.
Two types of legal forms are provided:
- “Blank Probate Forms” — typical “fill-in-the-blank” documents, all in interactive Word.doc format and the more popular ones in Adobe.pdf format; and
- “Filled In Probate Forms” — blank probate forms, in Adobe.pdf format, that have been filled in according to each of five different hypothetical fact situations, consisting of the 2×2 array of married/single Decedent and testate/intestate with the fifth situation illustrating a testacy with the Will annexed (ie, Decedent died with a valid Will but no named Personal Representative is able to serve).
The website also provides additional information, including:
- Instructions and probate forms for
- Information about how to navigate your way through Probate Court, such as:
- What to expect from a probate court,
- Filing a Will as a “Will Only,”
- Filing procedures:
- Satisfying notice requirements,
- “Walking a matter through Court,”
- Satisfying local rules,
- Filing working copies,
- Appearing in Court,
- Making conformed copies,
- Creating a pleadings file,
- Maintaining a tickler chart, and
- “Papering” the file.
- Information about issues particular to King County, such as:
- King County Superior Court Clerk’s Office,
- King County Case Assignment Designation & Case Information Cover Sheet,
- King County $15 Faulty Document Fee,
- Probate Filings & Hearings in King County: “Downtown” vs. Kent,
- Statutory 10-Day Notice Period Lengthened to 14 Days in King County, and
- “Walking a Matter Through Court” by Mail.
- Instructions and forms for heirs or beneficiaries of a Washington probate estate, assisting them to protect their rights if they are not acting as Personal Representative.
- Instructions and forms for:
- Information about Washington Wills.
- Asking Questions of WA-Probate.com and
- Finding other sources for probate help.
Many have asked “Why are you doing this?” What I can say is “I just enjoy being in Court, doing and thinking and writing about probate, being a part of the process, and every now and then seeing something good come from it for others.” As Gregory Bateson once said, “Information is the difference that makes a difference.” So I hope that by providing some simple information that may be relevant in your world right now, I can make a difference in your life. To reinforce the pro bono aspect of that message, I have incorporated the website as a Washington non-profit corporation under the name WASHINGTON PROBATE, which qualifies for IRS § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
My goals for WA-Probate.com were twofold:
- I wanted to provide help directly for Washington pro se probate litigants and attorneys, and indirectly for Washington judges, in ensuring that such litigants’ and attorneys’ actions are consistent with Washington law. [Volunteering for the Court, I routinely see cases, presented both with and without counsel, in which Washington legal requirements have been overlooked, resulting in the judges’ having to continue the hearing so the requirements may be met.] And
- The law for me is a second career, and as a probate attorney who also has a background in science and technology (BS, MIT; PhD, Caltech; faculty, UCLA Medical School & Caltech), I have been following the evolution of electronic Court records and filings, including the PACER & RACER systems at the Federal level and the JIS & SCOMIS systems at the state level. None of the existing public systems or websites, including the LINX system for Pierce County, provides probate forms suitable for electronic filing with the Court. I had hoped that use of WA-Probate.com’s forms might ease the transition for the members of the King County Bar from traditional paper filings to the inevitable electronic filings as well as allow King County to take an important first step towards eliminating the need for physical filing of paper documents and do so at no County expense.
If in your review of WA-Probate.com, you see anything about it that you think could be improved, either for the public, the bar, or the Court, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and suggestions. The point of all this exercise is to develop something that works, and works clearly and efficiently for all involved.
Richard Wills, WSBA 19720