Probate Shortcuts in Washington

Save time and money when you wrap up an estate in Washington.

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 (Small Estate) 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 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:

  • your name and address
  • the reason you are the rightful owner of the property
  • the deceased person was a Washington resident at the time of death
  • the value of the estate is less than that described above
  • all of the deceased person's funeral and burial expenses and other debts have been paid, and
  • a description of the personal property and which portion you are requesting.

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.

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 personal representative 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.

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:

  • states that the personal representative paid all approved claims, determines the people who should receive the property, and distributes the property to these people, or
  • approves the personal representative's accounting and orders the case closed.

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:

  • the deceased person's date of death and address
  • whether the deceased person had a will (the date of the will and the date of the court order recognizing the will as valid, if there is one)
  • the names, addresses, and relationship to the deceased person for each heir of the deceased
  • the share of each heir of the deceased, if there is no will
  • that the personal representative paid all presented creditor claims
  • that the personal representative paid any estate taxes due
  • the fees paid to the personal representative, lawyers, appraisers, and accountants
  • that the personal representative believes these fees are reasonable and don't require a court order for payment, and
  • that the personal representative completed all responsibilities and the estate is ready to be closed.

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 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).

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