Probate is the administration of an estate upon death. Specifically, “administration” simply means:
- The decedent’s assets are determined;
- The legitimate debts are paid; and
- The decedent’s assets are distributed pursuant to the Will (if any) or the laws of intestate succession (the statutes governing distribution if there’s no Will).
Although the circumstances of estate administration may vary, probates often involve the following steps:
1. Initial Appointment. If there is a Will, the initial appointment (via telephone or in person) should be with the Personal Representative nominated in the Will to administer the estate. If there is no Will or the named Personal Representative is unable or unwilling to serve, the appointment should be with the surviving spouse, or other family member or close friend.
For an initial appointment, it is very helpful if you provide:
- An original Death Certificate;
- The original Will (if any);
- A list of names, addresses, and dates of birth of family members; and
- A list of the decedent’s assets and liabilities.
2. Second Meeting. During this meeting, you will sign a variety of documents to be filed with the Court. Depending on the individual circumstances of the estate, my office will often prepare:
- A request for you to be able to administer the estate, to serve with non-intervention powers (which means that you will have minimal interference from the court in your duties), and to serve without bond;
- Proposed orders requesting the same;
- A Notice to Creditors (which needs to be published);
- A Notice of Appointment and Pendency of Probate (which needs to be sent to heirs, potential heirs, and several government agencies); and
- An Oath (saying essentially that you will be honest and try to do a good job in administering the estate).
Other documents may be needed depending on the contents of the Will, or the individual circumstances if there is no Will.
3. Court Appearance. In order to initiate the probate proceeding, a court appearance will be made by my office. If you choose to go to court, you may, but it is generally not required.
4. Notice to Creditors. After the court appearance, once you have been officially appointed by the court to administer the estate, we will arrange for a Notice to Creditors to be published in a local newspaper.
Once the Notice to Creditors is published, generally speaking, creditors have four months to file claims. If all other work related to the estate can be completed in this four-month period, the estate can be closed shortly after the creditor claim period ends. However, the timing depends on a variety of factors including the complexity of the estate, tax issues, ability to sell the real property, etc. Estates often receive claims related to creditors, and my office will handle all of these claims on the estate’s behalf pursuant to the legal requirements.
5. Your Work in Four-Month Period. During this period, you need to take possession of all assets of the deceased’s estate. Specifically, you will consolidate the decedent’s accounts into one estate account with a separate tax identification number. You may potentially sell some of the decedent’s assets and deposit the proceeds into the estate account. You will also inventory and value those assets so our office can prepare an Inventory as required by Washington law. You’ll need to ascertain the estate’s creditors, take steps to settle the deceased’s affairs as quickly as possible without sacrifice to the estate, and keep records and accounts of all transactions affecting the estate. My office will assist you in completing all of these tasks. You will want to retain a CPA to assist you in all tax matters related to the estate, which can be complex.
6. Attorney Duties. In addition to working with you on the tasks outlined above, my office will provide notices to the heirs, creditors, Department of Revenue and the Department of Social and Health Services pursuant to the legal requirements for each type of notice. We will work together to create an Inventory of the decedent’s assets as of the date of death, and we will provide the requisite analysis as to the classification of assets.
7. Distribution/Closure. When the estate is ready to be distributed, we will work with you to make a final distribution of assets, which may be complex. Then, we will complete the estate closure process pursuant to Washington statutory requirements. You will be discharged as the Personal Representative when the estate is closed.
Any questions? Please call Stacey Romberg at 206-784-5305 or contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.