Washington probate: the ultimate guide

If you’re looking for information about probate in Washington, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a detailed overview of probate in Washington, and to find out if you qualify for one of Washington’s simplified probate procedures.

Do you need probate in Washington?

Probate is a legal process which involves distributing a person’s assets and covering their debts and taxes after they die. Assets held or titled solely in the decedent’s name will generally go through the probate process before being distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries.  

 Examples of probate assets include:

  • Single name bank or investment accounts
  • Assets owned jointly as tenants in common (as opposed to joint tenancy)
  • Art and collectibles
  • A house in a single name
  • An automobile in a single name
  • Safety deposit box contents

Not all assets go through probate. Assets that automatically transfer to another person without a court order will avoid probate.

See: What assets go through probate?

Generally, joint accounts and accounts or assets with beneficiary designations (e.g. life insurance and retirement accounts) will avoid probate. A properly funded revocable trust will also avoid probate.

See: When is probate not necessary?

Simplified probate procedures in Washington

Washington state allows for two simplified probate procedures. One is an affidavit that does not involve the probate court at all. The other is a “settlement without court intervention” which, despite its name, does involve the probate court but not nearly as much as a full probate.

  • the affidavit procedure can be used if:
    • the value of the probate assets, excluding any property interest the surviving spouse's or domestic partner's community, less liens and encumbrances, is not more than $100,000.  Rev. Code § § 11.62.010. 
  • Settlement without court intervention can be used if:
    • the estate has adequate assets to pay debts and taxes, and
    • if there is a will, the personal representative named in the will petitions the court, or
    • if there is no will, the surviving spouse petitions the court, the estate consists of community property (not individual property), and the deceased left no children or grandchildren from another relationship, or
    • the court determines it would be in the best interests of the beneficiaries and creditors, and the personal representative is not a creditor.

If you have probate assets, and the assets do not qualify for the simplified procedures based on the descriptions listed above, then you will be required to go through the full probate process

See: What is the Probate Process?

Who is in charge of the estate?

If there is a will, a personal representative is named in the will to manage the probate estate. If the named personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve, then the next personal representative named in the will (called the successor personal representative) may serve. Note that sometimes the word “executor” is used instead of “personal representative”.  

If no one named in the will can serve as personal representative, then the beneficiaries of the will must appoint a personal representative. The beneficiaries must either agree unanimously or reach a majority vote. If not, the probate court decides.

Similarly, if there is no will, the heirs at law must decide and agree on who will administer the estate. The “heirs at law” are usually the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, then the children of the deceased, with certain exceptions for blended families. The heirs at law must either agree unanimously or reach a majority vote.

See: Intestate Succession - How to probate when there is no will

To demonstrate that someone is in charge of the probate estate, the court issues Letters Testamentary (if there is a will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no will) to the personal representative. The personal representative shows the Letters as proof of their power to act on behalf of the probate estate.

Notice to creditors

After being appointed personal representative, the personal representative must give notice of the probate by publishing in a newspaper once each week for three successive weeks. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 11.40.020.

Creditors of the estate then have four months after publication of the first notice to submit claims or be barred. The personal representative also has the option of mailing or serving the creditor. If they do, the creditor has 30 days to submit a claim or be barred. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 11.40.030.  

What do I need to get started on the probate process?

Before you file a probate, there are a few things you need to get in order:

  • A death certificate
  • The will (if there is one)
  • The names and addresses of the heirs or beneficiaries  

The first step is generally to give notice to all the beneficiaries or heirs. If you are the one who either intends to manage the probate estate or you are named in the will to manage the probate estate (and you accept the position), it is your job to give notice and gather the signatures.

How long does probate in Washington take?

In Washington, most probates can be done in eight months to a year. Any litigation or fighting could extend the timeline considerably.

How much does probate cost in Washington?

Here’s an overview of the approximate costs of Washington probate:

  • Court costs for various filing fees will total approximately $225.  
  • Attorney fees vary. Hourly fees for attorneys can range from $150 to $300 per hour. For a simple probate, where it does not look like fighting and litigation will occur, it’s probably reasonable to estimate attorney fees at a minimum of $2500. These fees are greatly reduced when you use EZ-probate and do probate on your own without an attorney. You can get started for free with our EZ-Probate Intake Form.
  • A fee will sometimes need to be paid to person managing the probate, which is usually a percentage of the probate estate, for example, 2%. (The fee is often waived.)
  • If an asset in question has an uncertain value and needs to be appraised (such as cars or antiques), you will want to be prepared to pay an appraisal fee.   
  • Depending on the state that the property is in, you may need to pay an estate tax. Washington does not have a state estate tax. Furthermore, the federal estate tax only applies to multi-million dollar or billion dollar type estates and affects less than 1% of the country.

Want to get a head start on the probate process?

The first step towards getting a probate opened is completing our online Intake Form. If you have already started it, you can always go back and finish it.

If you have questions, schedule a free consultation today.