Have Questions About How Probate Works?

Evergreen Elder Law Answers Frequently Asked Questions

Probate is the court-supervised legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate and paying all debts. Probate is often a lengthy and costly process. Many of our clients at Evergreen Elder Law have questions about how probate works in the Eastern Washington area. Below, you’ll find answers listed for frequently asked probate questions. If you’re ready to discuss the probate process with an experienced probate attorney in Eastern Washington, we encourage you to reach out to us via phone at (509) 325-5222 or via email to set up a free 60-minute initial consultation. Our skilled legal team is available to answer any additional questions you may have.

How Long Does Probate Typically Take?

The probate process in Eastern Washington, WA can vary anywhere from four months up to a year. However, it can take even longer than that for complicated or contested estates. Probate is a complicated process with many moving pieces. The process can take several years if family members challenge the estate or find themselves at odds with the bequests.

Is There Any Way You Can Avoid Probate?

Not all items need to pass through probate. For example, if you have items held in a revocable trust or with a specific beneficiary or designations like an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), these don’t need to be probated. Washington probate law also allows an individual to make payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations for many assets, including real property and bank account balances.

Who Is Responsible for Initiating Probate?

The executor of a will is responsible to initiate the probate process, retain an attorney, and take care of all financial obligations the deceased person left behind. An executor is usually named in a will, but the probate court will appoint a relative to handle the probate process if no will is available.

What Happens During the Probate Process?

The executor of a will, or an individual appointed by the probate court if there wasn’t a will, is responsible for dispersing real and personal property and collecting debts owed to the deceased. A list of assets in the estate is prepared and beneficiaries named in the will (or heirs-at-law if there isn’t a will) are notified of the probate proceedings. It’s up to the beneficiaries to file claims for any debts owed to them. State and federal taxes are paid from the estate. The title to the decedent’s property is cleared so that the property can be passed on to the beneficiaries or sold.

What Type of Assets Aren’t Subject to Probate?

Assets jointly held or held with a right of survivorship (ownership is transferred once someone passes away) are not subject to probate. Estates with assets valued below $100,000 and no real property can also avoid probate, depending on the complexity of the assets owned. Lastly, retirement accounts with beneficiary designations and life insurance policies are not subject to probate.

When Will Our Family Receive Property or Assets?

The probate court won’t allow the final distribution of property and assets until all debts have been paid, including court fees, estate taxes, and other debts. The dispersal timeline is dependent on many factors.

Why Should I Hire a Probate Attorney in Eastern Washington?

While you aren’t legally required to retain a probate attorney in Eastern Washington, WA, it’s advisable due to the complexity of the court process. A dedicated probate attorney such as Evergreen Elder Law understands 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, let alone even have the knowledge and experience to ensure it’s done correctly. Contact us on your behalf!

I Can’t Find My Loved One’s Will. What Should I Do?

If your loved one didn’t make a will, then you will need to swear under oath that no will can be located. If the will is subsequently found, then the estate must be redistributed in accordance with the will.

When Can I Sell the House from an Estate?

If an estate contains property, it cannot be sold until probate is opened and an executor is appointed.

How Do I Transfer the Ownership of Property Without Selling It?

The executors of the estate will be able to transfer ownership of the real property in accordance with the will’s specifications or the rules of intestacy.

What Does Intestacy Mean?

If you die without a will (intestate), a court determines who inherits your assets. This may not be your intent, but roughly 70% of Americans currently have no will, and their estate will pass by intestacy.

How Much Do Attorneys Charge for Probate Cases?

Legal fees will vary depending on the firm and the complexity of the estate. Attorneys often charge an hourly rate for the time spent on a case. Please contact Evergreen Elder Law to inquire about our rates.

Can an Executor Be Removed or Changed?

If the testator (the person who made the will) is still alive, then they may change their will with a codicil (an addition to the will) or execute a new will naming a different executor. If the testator has already died, then an executor can only be removed by agreement or by the courts. If you have a dispute with an executor or you wish to arrange a codicil, we can help.

What Is Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship?

Joint tenancy with the right of survivorship is the most common form of asset ownership between spouses. Joint tenancy assets have the advantage of avoiding probate at the death of the first spouse.

What Is a Power of Attorney, and When Do I Need One?

A power of attorney appoints someone you know and trust to make your healthcare and financial decisions when you cannot. If you become incapacitated and don’t have these legal documents in place, then your family may have to file a legal proceeding called guardianship. A judge determines whether you have the capacity and who should make decisions for you under ongoing court supervision. Your guardian must submit an annual report to the court, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

What Is a Revocable Living Trust?

A revocable living trust determines who gets your property and assets when you die. Most trusts are revocable, meaning they can be changed as circumstances or wishes dictate. If you own assets such as a house and want your loved ones to avoid court involvement in the event of your death or incapacity, you should consider drafting a revocable living trust with our attorneys.

Who Should Have a Revocable Living Trust?

Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, married or single, you should consider a revocable living trust to bring together all your assets under one plan. A trust is especially valuable when a property is owned in more than one state. Without the properties being titled in the trust, a probate proceeding would need to be opened in each state where the property is owned. As trustees, a husband and wife may have full use and enjoyment of all the trust assets while living. Further backup trustees can step in under the terms of the trust to manage the assets should the couple become incapacitated or die. Special provisions in the trust also control the distribution of assets to heirs in the event of the trust maker’s death.