What is Probate?
Probate is the official, court-administered closing of a person’s
estate after they die. If the person left a Will, it is filed with
the clerk of the Superior Court of the county where the person lived
at the time of death. If there is no dispute about the validity
of the Will, it is “admitted to Probate” and the person
named as personal representative, or executor, will be given court-certified
authority to close the estate.
How long does
The complexity of an estate – and the relationship
between the heirs – will normally determine the length
of time it takes to administer and close an estate. There
are some timelines built in to the Probate statute, but there
is no specific time limit for closing an estate. Some estates,
especially substantial estates that are the subject of disputes
between heirs, can remain open for years, even decades. But
most estates can be administered and closed within a matter
What kind of deadlines are there
for a Probate?
The first deadline contained in the statute deals with the production
of the Will. The custodian of the Will – the person with physical
possession of the original document – has 30 days from the
time he or she learns of the death of the testator (the person who
made the Will) to deliver it to the court or to the personal representative.
(If the personal representative is also the custodian, he or she
has 40 days to file it with the court.)
Normally, at the time the Will is filed, the personal representative
also petitions the court for an order officially appointing him
or her to administer the estate and directing the court clerk to
issue “Letters Testamentary.” Certified copies of the
letters are like an official “license” to carry on the
business of administering and closing the estate: accessing safe
deposit boxes, paying bills out of the testator’s checking
account, listing real property for sale, etc.
if the Testator had outstanding debts?
There is a specific procedure for notifying creditors, known
and unknown. After notice is published in the newspaper, creditors
have four months to officially file claims against the estate.
In addition, all “reasonably ascertainable” creditors
– those who could be discovered by going through the
testator’s financial records and opening their mail
– must be given actual notice, by mail or personal service.
If the statutory procedures are followed, creditors’
claims are cut off after the deadlines and are forever barred.
What happens if creditors are not
Notice to creditors is optional. A personal representative can choose
not to provide notice. But the time during which claims can be submitted
is then extended to two years from the date of death. Most people
choose to publish notice, gather in all the bills and make decisions
on payment, and then close the estate within a few months.
What else could delay the closing
of an estate?
Large, complex estates – especially those that are subject
to state and federal estate taxes – often take longer to administer
because of the need to pull all the assets together, do an inventory
to provide to creditors and heirs, file tax returns, etc. If heirs
disagree about their distributions under the Will, or demand an
accounting of the estate assets, the process can be drawn out.
Can Probate be avoided?
A whole industry based on Probate avoidance sprung up and has flourished
in the three and a half decades since Norman Dacey’s bestselling
book “How to Avoid Probate” became a certified phenomenon.
Companies that provide what are essentially canned, fill-in-the-blanks
living trusts have made millions of dollars because of people’s
sometimes irrational fear of “going through Probate.”
In fact, Washington’s Probate process is among the least complicated.
An uncontested probate of a non-taxable estate shouldn’t cost
much more than it would for one of the prefabricated living trusts
that have become so popular. There are other Probate avoidance techniques
you can employ, including community property agreements, beneficiary
designations, and gifting. An attorney knowledgeable about estates
and Probate can help you plan your estate to avoid Probate, if that
is your main goal, but he or she can also help you determine if
that approach is in the best interest of you and your heirs.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation at
(360)501-6221 or firstname.lastname@example.org