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How To Avoid Probate in Washington State

Estate planning can sometimes feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Picture each piece of the estate planning puzzle as part of an overall estate plan. You learn the names of the individual pieces – one called “living trust,” another “last will and testament,” and power of attorney. Your estate may also go through “probate”. To avoid probate, there are certain steps you must take. If you are interested in learning how to avoid probate in Washington, you’re in the right place.

What is Probate in the State of Washington?

First, let’s talk about probate and what it means. Simply put, probate is a court-supervised process to distribute someone’s estate after their death. It typically involves appointing a personal representative, paying off debts, dividing and distributing assets, and filing an inventory of the estate. You can expect the process to take approximately six months. However, if any issues arise, the process can become time-consuming and costly.

Is Probate Required in Washington State?

One of the first questions clients have is how can we transfer assets to their beneficiaries as easy as possible and avoid unnecessary costs. Here’s the good news! Washington State does NOT always require a probate proceeding.

Estates with less than $100,000 in assets can often avoid probate provided there are no liens on the property or unpaid debts. This is the small estate affidavit process. A personal representative, usually the executor named in the will, is responsible for submitting an accurate account of the deceased person’s estate, as well as a plan for dispersing assets and possessions to the beneficiaries. Washington State may consider this a simpler alternative to probate court, but it’s not that simple for the personal representative. If you find yourself in this situation, it would be worth your time to consult with a probate lawyer in Spokane to ensure you comply with all the legal requirements under Washington State law.

Assets that have beneficiary designations such as Individual Retirement Account’s (IRA’s) or life insurance policies, also do not go through probate. The same is true for transfer-on-death securities and bank accounts.

Don’t hesitate to contact a qualified probate attorney in the tri-cities area if you have questions about whether your estate will need to go through the probate process. The probate lawyers at Evergreen Elder Law will be happy to discuss your estate planning situation and can offer guidance for optimizing the security and value of your assets – including ways to avoid probate.

Are there other ways to avoid probate?

These simplified no-probate solutions don’t work for everyone. Part of my job as a probate attorney is explaining some of the other strategies available for avoiding or minimizing the time and expense of probate.
One of the most effective ways to avoid probate is to establish a living trust. Property is transferred to the trust, and these assets are overseen by a trustee who is charged with managing the trust for the benefit of the designated beneficiaries. In a living trust, the person who creates the trust also serves as the trustee during their lifetime. After death, a successor trustee manages the assets in the trust for the named beneficiaries. These assets will not need to go through probate.

Payable-on-death bank account, is an arrangement you set up with your bank. After death, the bank will transfer the funds to the beneficiary. The manager retains control over this account and can add to it, withdraw money, or change the beneficiary during the lifetime. Upon death, the beneficiary receives an inheritance with the added bonus of being able to avoid probate.

What other assets are exempt from probate in Washington?

Washington State recognizes the “right of survivorship,” where the survivor will receive 100% ownership of assets upon a person’s passing. There is no probate required for these shared assets.
Community property is slightly different. When a married couple has a community property agreement (CPA) as part of the estate plan, ownership of the property passes to the surviving partner following the death of a spouse. This transfer is not subject to probate. Holding this agreement in place, transfers the community property without probate.
A Washington probate attorney, will most often prepare a CPA for a married couple in order to avoid probate. Upon death of a spouse having to handle a probate is not a good option.

Work with an estate planning attorney to avoid unnecessary probate

As you can see, organizing an estate plan is often complicated. While you aren’t required to retain a probate attorney when you’re determining the most effective way to secure the financial future of your heirs, it’s advisable due to the complexity of the court process. A dedicated Evergreen Elder Law probate attorney understands Washington probate laws and regulations and how they apply to your situation. Many individuals don’t have the time to make court appearances, gather documents, and file the paperwork, and don’t have the knowledge and experience to ensure it’s done correctly.

Along with handling probate, Evergreen Elder Law can ensure that your estate plan covers how you want your estate to be distributed. With all the proper legal documents in place,  you will have completed the “estate planning” puzzle.  It will now be ready to make the transfer of assets to your beneficiaries as easy as possible and avoid unnecessary costs.

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Evergreen Elder Law is committed to helping you create comprehensive legal, financial, and physical security for you and your loved ones. Serving the Spokane, Tri Cities and Coeur d’Alene regions, we have the knowledge, compassion and professionalism to guide you in planning for the future, giving you peace of mind as you or a loved one makes important decisions for your family and future.

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