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.)
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 the 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.
The affidavit must state:
You must give written notice to the other inheritors at least 10 days before filing the affidavit. You must also give the department of social and health services a copy of the affidavit and the deceased person's Social Security number.
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:
Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 11.68.011 and following.
The personal representative collects the assets of the estate, pays claims, and files an accounting. The personal representative can file an application for a court order to close the estate. This order either:
The application must state the amount of money the personal representative is requesting for his or her services, for attorney services, and the services of other professionals (like accountants or appraisers). The personal representative must give notice to all inheritors and known creditors before filing this application. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 11.68.100.
If the personal representative doesn't file an application for a court order, he or she must file a declaration that states:
Within five days of filing this declaration, the personal representative must mail a copy of the decladration to each heir and beneficiary. The mailing must include specific language that explains the declaration's purpose and power. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 11.68.110.
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).