Probate Shortcuts in Washington

Save time and money using Washington's probate shortcuts. These procedures make it easier for survivors to collect property left by a person who has died.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

Washington offers two probate shortcuts. These procedures save time and money and make it easier for survivors to collect property left by a person who has died. You might be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without using any probate court proceedings at all.

Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If you use the affidavit procedure, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)

Claiming Property With a 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. 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.

All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document claiming entitlement 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 for personal property—not real estate—in Washington if:

  • you are a "successor" to property—meaning you're legally entitled to the property
  • the deceased person was a Washington resident at the time of death
  • 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
  • 40 days have passed since the deceased person's death
  • no one has been appointed personal representative or applied for appointment
  • all of the deceased person's funeral and burial expenses and other debts have been paid
  • you gave written notice to other successors of the deceased person at least 10 days before filing the affidavit, and
  • you're entitled to full payment of the claimed property or have the written authority from other successors to claim the property.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.62.005, 11.62.010 (2024).)

The small estate affidavit must state all of the above points. It also must include your name and address and a description of the personal property you're requesting. You also need to give the department of social and health services a copy of the affidavit and the deceased person's Social Security number. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.62.010 (2024).)

Simplified Probate Procedures in Washington: Nonintervention Administration

Within its regular probate process, Washington offers a simplified version of probate that's available to many estates. This procedure is called "nonintervention administration." A personal representative with nonintervention powers can administer the estate without the court's supervision. If you use this simplified procedure, you can also skip some of the steps of regular probate. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.68.085, 11.68.090 (2024).)

How to Petition for Nonintervention Administration

If a will exists, a personal representative (also called an "executor") of the estate can petition the local probate court ("superior court" in Washington) for nonintervention administration.

When there's a will, the court shall grant nonintervention administration if:

  • the estate is solvent
  • the petitioning personal representative was named in the deceased person's will as the personal representative
  • the will doesn't prohibit the use of nonintervention administration, and
  • the personal representative isn't a creditor of the deceased person.

(Wash. Rev. Code § 11.68.011 (2024).)

If there's no will, a surviving spouse or domestic partner can make the request for nonintervention administration. The court shall grant nonintervention administration if:

  • the estate is solvent
  • the estate consists entirely of community property, and
  • the deceased person left no children or grandchildren from another relationship.

(Wash. Rev. Code § 11.68.011 (2024).)

The Nonintervention Administration Probate Process

A personal representative who doesn't meet the above standards needs to give notice of the petition for nonintervention administration ten days before a hearing on the petition. The notice must be sent to all heirs, beneficiaries of gifts in the will, and others who have requested notice—such as creditors of the deceased person. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.28.240, 11.68.041 (2024).)

During nonintervention administration, the personal representative collects the assets of the estate, distributes assets to beneficiaries, pays claims against the estate, and files an accounting. The personal representative has extensive powers, including the powers to borrow money on the estate's credit and to mortgage the deceased person's real estate. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.68.090 (2024).)

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.

(Wash. Rev. Code § 11.68.100 (2024).)

The application must state the amount of money being requested for the services of the personal representative, attorneys, and 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 § 11.68.100 (2024).)

If the personal representative doesn't file an application for a court order, the personal representative must file a declaration that states:

  • the deceased person's date of death and address at the time of death
  • whether the deceased person had a will
  • if there's a will, the date of the will and the date of the court order recognizing the will as valid
  • if there isn't a will, the names, addresses, and relationship to the deceased person for each heir of the deceased—and each heir's share of the estate
  • that the personal representative paid all creditor claims that were required to be paid
  • that the personal representative paid any estate taxes due
  • the amount of fees paid to the personal representative, lawyers, appraisers, and accountants
  • that the personal representative believes the above 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 declaration to each heir and beneficiary. The mailing must include specific language that explains the declaration's purpose and power. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.68.110 (2024).)

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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