What Is The Process Of Estate Administration In Washington State?
By: Washington State Estate Planning & Probate Lawyer Matthew J. Cruz
In Washington State, when someone passes away, their estate will need to be administered. In general the process of estate administration accomplishes three basic purposes: 1) gathers together all of the Decedent’s assets; 2) pays all of the Decedent’s debts; and 3) distributes the net remaining estate to the Decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Though these are the basic steps of administration, the process is different depending on how the Decedent organized their estate and how the Decedent chose to implement their estate plan.
For example, a Decedent may have died with many assets or with just a few. They may have died having executed a Will or a Trust (or series of trusts) to direct the distribution of their estate, or the Decedent may not have executed any estate planning documents, in which case they are said to have died intestate (without instructions for the disposition of their estate).
Whether a Decedent executed a Will or a Trust, or nothing at all, the Decedent’s estate needs to be administered to make sure the assets have been gathered, the debts have been paid, and the remainder of the estate is distributed as required by the Will, Trust, or by law.
I am frequently asked about probate administration; more specifically, I am asked about what it is. Probate is nothing more than judicial oversight of the process of gathering assets, making sure the debts are paid and the heirs/beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to receive. The judicial oversight occurs when we open a probate file in the Superior Court. At that time, a Personal Representative is appointed to handle the administrative affairs of the estate. A duly appointed Personal Representative is generally not discharged of their responsibilities until the estate is closed. Unless there difficulty in gaining control over the estate assets, locating an heir, a dispute with a creditor, or a dispute amongst the heirs/beneficiaries, a probate estate should not take more than approximately 6-8 months to complete.
If the Decedent had executed a revocable living trust as their primary estate dispositive planning tool, generally probate is not required because the Trust continues to own the Decedent’s assets despite the death of the Decedent. The Successor Trustee still goes through a process of gathering all assets, paying all debts, and then follows the instructions in the Trust for distribution of the Trust Estate.
When a Decedent dies without having executed a Will or a Trust, their estate will be distributed according to law (RCW 11.04). Generally, an intestate estate is distributed to the surviving spouse/registered domestic partner and children (natural and adopted) of a Decedent. If a Decedent is not survived by a spouse, registered domestic partner or natural or adopted children, the intestate estate is distributed to the Decedent’s nearest, surviving blood relatives.
Of course, there are various steps to be followed, and certain problems can be encountered in the process of estate administration. While you are free to administer an estate without an attorney, an experienced administration attorney can ensure the process is completed competently and in a timely and efficient manner. Please feel free to call on one of our experienced estate administration attorneys if we can be of service.
Beresford Booth PLLC (425.776.4100), www.beresfordlaw.com
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