If you found this posting because you have lost someone you love in the past few days and you are worried about this looming thing called “probate,” please accept my condolences, and this advice: bookmark the page and return when you have completed your initial grieving. Spend time with your family and know that—other than arranging for the funeral and securing any now-vacant property—there is nothing that must happen immediately. But don’t wait too long, because are there are things (outlined below) that will need attention soon.
Under Washington law, probating an estate is not always necessary. But any Will prepared by the deceased person must be filed with the Clerk’s Office of the Superior Court in their “resident” county within 40 days of death. (The Court will not accept copies, and original Wills are often difficult to track down, so don’t wait to the last minute to start looking.)
You have only forty days to file any Will with the Court.
The most common reasons to probate an estate in Washington are because the deceased person died owning real property, or other “titled” property exceeding $100,000 in value, that did not automatically transfer to someone else upon their death. Common examples of titled property that transfer automatically (without probate) include: property held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship; property subject to a community property agreement; property with beneficiary designations (including beneficiary deeds on real property); and property held by the deceased person’s living trust.
It may also be beneficial to probate an estate in cases where there are numerous creditors or a business involved.
But first things first: You need documents. In addition to the original Will (if it exists) and any other estate planning documents (such as a revocable living trust), you will want to track down the following:
• Death certificates (get at least half a dozen certified copies)
• Social security card
• Marriage certificate
• Birth certificate
• Children’s birth certificates
• Insurance policies
• Real property deeds
• Title and registration papers for vehicles and boats
• Stock certificates
• Bank account records
• Honorable discharge papers for veteran and/or VA claim number
• Recent income tax and W-2 forms
• Loan papers and contracts
Other tasks that you will want to attend to sooner rather than later include:
• Notifying your local Social Security office to stop any payments to the deceased and inquire about possible survivor benefits.
• Notifying any Medicare plans to cancel insurance.
• Contacting your loved one’s employer for information on pension plans and union death benefits.
• Cancelling health insurance—but make sure to continue coverage for any dependents!
• Filing a claim with life insurance companies. And, if the deceased was listed as a beneficiary on any policies, be sure to replace them with another beneficiary.
• Contacting other insurance providers to cancel coverage, such as automobile and homeowners insurance
• Making a list of important bills, such as the mortgage.
• Notifying mortgage companies, banks and financial advisors.
• Closing credit card accounts (and notifying credit-reporting agencies).
• Cancelling driver’s license, email and website accounts, and any memberships.
• Notifying the election board to remove the deceased from voter registration rolls.
• Contact a tax preparer for filing of mandatory tax returns.
And then there’s the remaining question of whether to probate your loved one’s estate. If the estate is relatively small and uncomplicated, there are plenty of “do-it-yourself” tools online. The instructions on the not-for-profit website of Washington (State) Probate are especially helpful. If the estate is more complex, or if you are simply feeling overwhelmed, you may benefit from attorney assistance.
If you are in Skagit, Island or Whatcom counties, we will gladly sit down with you to assess your situation at no charge. If you decide to use our firm, we charge fixed fee prices for most probates, with the amounts depending on which stages of the probate process you are hiring us to handle (and not the size of the estate). For sample pricing on our probate services, visit our Services page. You can also read our Blog (coming soon…) on the different types of probate in Washington State to get a sense of what you can expect.
Our condolences again for your loss.