Probate is the legal process that formalizes the Will and settles the estate after someone dies. The court oversees the process used to validate a Will, to appoint a Personal Representative to handle the estate, property, and the details of closing out all tangible matters.

It is not always necessary to enter a Probate proceeding–various factors are considered.

The Personal Representative or Administrator is responsible for the proper handling and settlement of the decedent’s estate. The Personal Representative should:

  • Notify heirs and creditors of the probate proceedings.

  • Take possession of, inventory, and preserve the decedent’s probate assets.

  • Determine the fair market value of estate assets through an appraisal or other suitable means.

  • Determine the names, ages, residences, and relationship of all beneficiaries and heirs.

  • Collect all income, such as rents, interest, or dividends, as well as debts owed to the decedent.

  • Represent the estate in any challenges to the Will and complete any pending lawsuits in which the decedent had an interest.

  • Prepare any necessary tax returns and pay all state or federal estate and income taxes.

  • Pay the valid claims of creditors.

  • Sell property when necessary to raise funds to settle claims and pay administration expenses and taxes.

  • Transfer title to real property and certain personal property (such as stocks and bonds) to those entitled to receive it.

  • Distribute the remaining assets to the designated beneficiaries or heirs.

  • File a Declaration of Completion of Probate with the court to notify the court and third parties that the administration of the decedent’s estate is complete.

All probate proceedings are subject to the jurisdiction and supervision of the superior courts of Washington. However, if the decedent owned property in another state, that state’s courts may have jurisdiction over that property. The personal representative may select the location of a Washington probate for purposes of convenience or other reasons; however, if a notice to creditors is going to be filed, the notice should be filed in the county where the decedent lived.

In Washington, it is advantageous to give creditors notice of the probate of an estate. State law provides a type of notice that may be published in a newspaper or delivered, by mail or by hand, to a decedent’s creditors. If the notice is given, creditors must file their claims against the estate within a relatively short period of time. If any creditor does not file his or her claim within the time period mandated by Washington law, the creditor will be forever barred from making claims against the estate. Whether or not to file a notice to creditors is an important point to discuss with the probate lawyer.

The customary work of the personal representative (such as paying bills, settling uncontested claims, selling estate assets where appropriate, preparing tax returns, and paying taxes) is generally accomplished without intervention by the court. The court involvement is required when disputes arise or uncertainty exists as to the proper meaning of a document or the identity of a person entitled to share in the estate.

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