When a client retains us to assist them in opening a probate and getting appointed by the court to serve as Personal Representative of the Estate, one of the first questions we are inevitably asked is, “How long will this take?” It’s a reasonable question. And, like most lawyers, my usual response is, “It depends . . . .” Probates can be opened and closed in five months, or they can linger for years.
After the court appoints a Personal Representative, one of the first tasks is to facilitate publication of a Notice to Creditors. RCW 11.40.020 states in pertinent part:
Notice to creditors—Manner—Filings—Publication.
(1) Subject to subsection (2) of this section, a personal representative may give notice to the creditors of the decedent, in substantially the form set forth in RCW 11.40.030, announcing the personal representative’s appointment and requiring that persons having claims against the decedent present their claims within the time specified in RCW 11.40.051 or be forever barred as to claims against the decedent’s probate and nonprobate assets. If notice is given:
(a) The personal representative shall file the notice with the court;
(b) The personal representative shall cause the notice to be published once each week for three successive weeks in a legal newspaper in the county in which the estate is being administered;
RCW 11.40.051 sets forth a number of deadlines related to when various types of creditors will be prevented from presenting claims against the estate. In particular, RCW 11.40.051(1)(b)(i) indicates that if the creditor is “not reasonably ascertainable” then that “creditor must present the claim within four months after the date of first publication of notice.” That four-month-period is significant.Even in the simplest of probates, with no tax issues, no dueling heirs, and no tricky issues regarding the transfer of real property, the Personal Representative will want to wait until that four-month period has passed before working with counsel to close the estate. Why? Because one of the greatest advantages of probate, besides the efficient transfer of a decedent’s assets, is to gain that protection against unknown creditors. If an unknown creditor tries to file a claim four months and two days after the publication date, it can be rejected as being time barred.
So the answer to the question, “What’s the time frame for a Washington probate?” is a minimum of four months. Beyond that, it depends on numerous additional factors. Do you have questions about this issue? Please let us know, we’d be happy to help.
Photo credit: openDemocracy on Flickr