When a loved one dies, it can be a sad and stressful time. It can also be a complicated, confusing time as you begin the process of settling the estate and distributing the assets of the deceased. In Washington, most estates will go through probate, a legal process that ensures the desires of the person who died as stated in their will are honored.
Probate Proceedings in Washington
The first task is to file a petition for probate with the court. Probate officially begins when a person files with the superior court in the county where the person lived or where they held property. Along with the petition, the person filing will include a copy of the death certificate and the will.
The court will schedule a hearing to assign a person to be the administrator or personal representative of the estate. They will give them authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The next steps involve the administrator taking action on the estate. They will notify any heirs of probate along with all creditors. They take inventory of all assets that belong to the estate and have them appraised to determine their value. Their job also includes collecting all income, such as debts owed to the deceased and any rents or dividends. The administrator may also have to sell certain assets to pay for any debts owed by the deceased if there aren’t enough liquid assets.
The administrator also pays all creditors and files taxes as well as paying all state and federal taxes. They distribute any remaining assets to the beneficiaries, including transferring title of property.
When is Probate Necessary in the State?
Washington state law doesn’t require every estate to go through probate. Certain factors will determine if probate is necessary and which type of proceedings must be followed. These factors include the type of assets, the value and how they are titled.
Assets that have an assigned beneficiary don’t need to go through probate. Examples of this type of asset include life insurance policies and retirement plans. If an asset is owned by another person along with the deceased and it is titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship, no probate is necessary because the surviving owner would become sole owner.
If the estate is small as defined by Washington law, an informal process known as an affidavit procedure would transfer ownership to the named beneficiaries in the will. The process is quite simple; the will must be filed with the superior court in the county where the person lived.
The Role of the Court
Most of the work done for probate is handled by an administrator or personal representative of the estate, also known as an executor. The court’s job is mainly to oversee what is being done and ensure it follows the law and to handle any disputes or contests that arise.
The first task of the court is to appoint the administrator. This person is most likely the one named in the will to act in the position. If there is no will, the court will designate someone for this role. In either case, the court will issue letters testamentary, which gives them authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The role of the court at this time is to handle any disputes that arise. For instance, if a creditor comes forward with a claim that the administrator believes isn’t valid, the court will decide whether it should be paid. If one of the heirs disputes the will and how it directs assets to be divided, the court must deal with this claim and determine the result of the dispute. The court may be asked to interpret the meaning of a document in the probate process.
Time Required Settling an Estate in Washington State
The timeline for settling an estate in Washington can vary. It depends on several factors, which makes it difficult to predict how long the process will take. Some of the factors that determine the length of the probate process include whether there is a will in place and the size of the estate. Tax returns can also extend the timeline for probate.
The main reason probate would be extended is if someone contests the will or makes a claim against it that isn’t supported by the will. The parties would be given time to prove their case and the court would need to hold a hearing to hear the claims.
Creditors are given time to respond to notice of probate, which is usually about four months. Taxes must generally be paid by nine months after the person died. However, final distribution of the estate shouldn’t happen until the tax returns have been accepted and no amendments need to be made. If property must be sold to pay creditors or to distribute among the heirs, this process will lengthen the time as well, depending on the type of property. For instance, selling vehicles doesn’t usually take long, but it can take a few months to sell a house or land. If the person owned a business, the sale could take months to be finalized.
Washington is one of the states that imposes an inheritance tax along with the federal estate tax. Even if the estate has non-probate assets, the entire value is included for income taxes and estate taxes.
The amount due for federal estate taxes depends on the value of the assets. A graduated scale is used to calculate the amount that must be paid. Certain exemptions and deductions are allowed. The amount after those deductions is what is used to calculate the income tax.
An inheritance tax is only due in Washington if the taxable value of the estate is over two million dollars. The laws regarding taxes on estates are constantly changing, which is why it’s important to know the latest information when trying to figure out how much is owed to the IRS or the state.
The estate may also have to pay a federal income tax based on the amount received from the sale of assets. That money is viewed as income for the estate and will be charged a federal income tax just like with a personal income tax return.
Fees and Costs
Filing probate comes with some special fees and costs that must be included in the payments made before disbursement of the will can occur. These fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars based on the size of the estate. The complexity of probate and the types of assets may also influence the costs.
The personal representative or administrator is entitled to compensation for their work. If they hire an attorney to help with the process, that person will also receive a fee for their work. These fees often require approval from the court before they can be paid.
The amount of the fee for the administrator will depend on how complicated the estate was and how much work was involved for the administrator.
Probate can be quite a lengthy and complicated process. This overview should help you understand how probate is handled in Washington. However, you may want to hire an attorney and even an accountant to help with the administration of an estate if the value or number of assets are vast.