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What Is Probate? Do I Have To File A Probate For My Spouse?

  • By: Christopher Benson
  • Published: June 4, 2016

2 Common Questions:

(1) What Is Probate in Washington;  And
(2) Do I Have To File A Probate For My Spouse or Loved One?

If you have recently lost a loved one, we understand what you are experiencing because everyone at our firm has lost someone close to them and then had to handle the details of taking care of their affairs. We handle the administration of probates in Washington on a daily basis. We are here to help you with the process.

Here is one of the great things about probate administration in Washington: A Washington Statute provides that a probate can be filed in any County Superior Court in the State of Washington.  Therefore, it does not matter where you live, we can handle your probate needs.

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We have personal representatives who live all over the State of Washington (an also out of State) and we have the ability to file the probate in King County or Pierce County in order to save money for administration costs and make it more convenient.

With the use of technology, we can handle everything over the phone, email, Apple FaceTime or in-person meetings. We try to make handling a difficult situation as easy for your as possible.

In the past 32 years:

We have helped over 900 clients with their Peace of Mind Planning to prepare Revocable Living Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Medical Directives, Minor Guardianship designations and Wills.

We have helped over 300 people who have lost a family member to handle their probate and take care of the details required in their time of need.

There are some common misconceptions questions about what you have to do and what is required in Washington when someone dies. Our website will provide some answers.

The best and easiest thing for you to do is simply send me a quick email [email protected]and provide me some facts about your circumstances. From there I can have an idea of what is going on and determine if you need to schedule an in person consultation with me to go over everything.
Also, you can call (253) 815-6940 to set up your free initial consultation. At the appointment, it is helpful if you bring with you the following items: 1. Certified Copy of Death Certificate; 2. A copy of the Last Will and Testament; 3. The names, addresses and telephone numbers of all children and/or beneficiaries named in the Will; 4. The addresses of any real estate owned by the deceased; 5. Any information concerning mortgage companies or other creditors of the deceased.

Before we address the question of “What is Probate,” we first want to address the question of “Do I have to file a probate?”

Common Question: Do I have to file a probate if my spouse or parent dies in Washington?

The short answer is “Yes” unless the following applies:

  1. The Assets of the deceased are in a trust; or
  2. The Assets of the deceased are held as joint tenants with the right of survivorship (property held as community property doesn’t count as will be explained later); or
  3. The Assets have a payable on death contractual provision (such as a retirement plan or life insurance proceeds); or
  4. In the case of a husband and wife, the husband and wife have previously executed a formal Community Property Agreement; or
  5. In the case where the assets are less than $100,000 AND the deceased did not own an interest in ANY REAL ESTATE.
Here are a couple of other clues:

1. If you have tried to take care of the deceased’s bank account (or other financial accounts) and the bank has told you that you need “Letters Testamentary;” then you must file a probate to obtain Letters Testamentary from the Court.

2. If you have tried to sell or refinance real estate in which the deceased had a title interest and the lender, escrow company or title company has told you that  you need “Letters Testamentary;” then you must file a probate to obtain Letters Testamentary from the Court.

What is Probate?

I am typically in Court every week handling probate matters.  Extensive knowledge of the probate system in Washington is vital for a smooth and successful probate administration.

Probate is the system in Washington where we handle all of the financial affairs of a person who as died. If you die and you have executed a Will, then we say that you have died “Testate.” If you die and have not executed a Will (or some other planning documents which avoids probate) then we say that you have died “Intestate.’

When you die with a Will, you get to designate what gifts you want to make with your property. You also get to pick who you want to handle the wrapping up of your affairs and the making of your designated gifts. That person is called an Executor if it is a man or an Executrix if it is a woman.  Typically, we simply use the gender-neutral term “Personal Representative.”  It’s basically three different terms for the same job.

When you die without a Will, there is a statutory law that predetermines who receives gifts and in what percentages. There is also a statutory law which determines which people and the order of those people are eligible to handle your affairs. Simply put, if you didn’t take the time to figure it out, the State of Washington will figure it out for your regardless of your wishes.

A person has to file a Petition with the Court to seek to appoint a Personal Representative of the Estate. In some cases, the Court may also require that person to pay for a Bond to protect the heirs and creditors of the Estate during the process. A Notice To Creditors is published in the newspaper and direct notice is sent to known creditors. An inventory of all of the deceased assets is prepared and filed with the Court. Obviously, everything filed with the Court is public information and anyone can read it.

Notices are sent to all beneficiaries with all of the relevant documents filed with the court.

There is a 4 Month Notice To Creditors which sets a time period for creditors to submit claims of debts in order to get paid from the assets of the estate.

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