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 a small estate 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:
(Wash. Rev. Code § § 11.62.010 and following.) Note that even fairly sizable estates can qualify for this procedure if much of the estate is made up of nonprobate assets—that is, assets that don't require probate in the first place.
The small estate 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 available to many estates. This procedure is called "nonintervention administration," and it requires minimal court supervision. If you use this simplified procedure, you can also skip some steps of regular probate.
If a will exists, the executor (also called "personal representative") of the estate can petition the local probate court ("superior court" in Washington) for nonintervention administration if:
If there is no will, the surviving spouse or domestic partner can make the request for nonintervention administration if:
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, the personal representative must file a declaration that states:
Within five days of filing this declaration, the personal representative must mail a copy of the declaration 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).