Washington offers two probate shortcuts. These procedures make it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all. And that saves time, money, and hassle.
Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If the affidavit procedure is used, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)
Claiming Property With a Simple Affidavit
Washington has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind is less than a certain amount. All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document, stating that he or she is entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is called an affidavit. When the person or institution holding the property -- for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account -- gets the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the asset.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Washington if the value of assets subject to probate, not counting surviving spouse's or domestic partner's community property interest, less liens and encumbrances, is $100,000 or less. There is a 40-day waiting period. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.62.010 and following.
Simplified Probate Procedures
Within its regular probate process, Washington offers a simplified version of probate to certain estates. If the estate is eligible, the court may authorize the personal representative to distribute the assets without any supervision from the probate court. To use this process, the personal representative must file a written request with the local probate (superior) court.
The court may grant a request for "settlement without court intervention" if the estate is solvent (has enough assets to pay valid debts and taxes) and:
- if there is a will, the executor named in the will makes the request, or
- if there is no will, the surviving spouse or domestic partner makes the request, the estate consists entirely of community property, and the deceased person left no children or grandchildren from another relationship, or
- the personal representative is not a creditor of the deceased person, and the court determines it would be in the best interests of the beneficiaries and creditors.
Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 11.68.011 and following.
For More Information
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).