When a person passes away, everything they own at the time of their passing is referred to as their “estate.” Each person has their own personal estate. It could be as simple as clothing, furniture, and other items used around the house, which are referred to collectively as personal property. But if the deceased person owned a home, several vehicles, financial assets, or a business, it could be more complicated. Legal representation from Kennewick probate lawyers is crucial.
The process of determining who is entitled to what assets, paying off any debts owed by the deceased person, and transferring ownership of assets is referred to as estate administration. After the death of a person, there is almost always some work that needs to be done. One of which is a court-supervised process known as probate.
If you have been caught off guard by an unexpected death of a loved one and are being appointed as personal representative, our Kennewick WA probate attorneys at McBurney Law can provide answers to all your questions and legal services to accomplish your role as executor. Reach out to us today!
Why do I need a Probate Lawyer in Washington?
While it is not required by Washington law for the executor or personal representative to hire a probate attorney in Kennewick WA, it is in your best interests to do so.
As executor, you have a number of important and complicated legal responsibilities, and you may be held liable for any mistakes you make. Furthermore, unintentional errors can cause undue delay, deplete the estate’s funds, and cause family strife. The Kennewick probate lawyers from McBurney Law can assist you with the following:
- Initiate probate
- Provide notice as required by law to the appropriate parties
- Identify and inform possible state creditors and other interested parties
- Notify the applicable government agencies
- Inventory the property and prepare an evaluation
- Manage and allocate property
- Keep track of court hearings and orders
- Avoid crucial errors
- Settle problems before they escalate into full-blown legal conflicts
- Prepare the estate’s tax return and fulfill its numerous estate taxes requirements
- Honor all of your legal responsibilities as executor / personal representative
If you are currently involved in a probate proceeding, or if you have been tasked with serving as an executor or personal representative, the feeling of uncertainty can be overwhelming. Our estate planning law firm in Kennewick WA can help you navigate this process smoothly.
What is Probate?
Probate refers to the administration of the estate of a deceased individual. The decedent usually designates a family member or close friend to serve as the personal representative or executor of the estate. Most of the time, these individuals are not familiar with the legal responsibilities and requirements that come along with the position which can lead to a wide variety of complications and worries.
Probate can be a long, expensive and complicated process that includes the following:
- Establishing in court the validity of a deceased person’s will
- Identifying and compiling the deceased’s belongings
- Obtaining a property evaluation
- Paying obligations and estate taxes
- Distributing the remaining property according to the terms of the wills or intestate laws
The probate process involves lawyers filing paperwork and appearing in court. Legal representation and administrative costs are paid for out of the assets of the estate, which would otherwise be distributed to the heirs of the deceased person’s property.
At the law office of McBurney Law, our Kennewick probate lawyers represent clients on all sides of complex estate administration matters, including executors and personal representatives, trustees, beneficiaries, and others. We are well-equipped to provide you with the skilled representation you require due to our extensive legal knowledge and experience in these cases.
The Probate Court
The probate court is responsible for ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are carried out and that all obligations have been met. The court supervises the probate process, interprets any unclear documents, and responds to any questions or legal issues that may arise.
If there are any disputes or litigation cases regarding the will or if someone contests it, the probate court is responsible for resolving them. It examines the evidence presented in the probate records in light of the provisions of the wills and renders a decision. The court also closes probate once all tasks associated with it have been completed.
Probate With a Will vs Probate Without a Will
If the deceased person prepared an estate plan and left a will, the court must first determine the will’s validity and authenticity. The court then appoints a personal representative, typically the individual named as such in the will, to administer the estate.
If the deceased did not leave a last will, a trust, or any estate planning documents, or if the will could not be validated by the probate court, their estate becomes intestate. In such cases, the assets are distributed by an unbiased administrator.
Without a will, probate is a more expensive process. It costs the state time and resources, and the longer it takes, the more expensive it becomes. So, while probate without a will is possible, it is not recommended.
The Probate Process
To give you an idea of what to expect from the probate administration process, here is a rundown of the initial basic steps. The size of the estate and other details can complicate any steps. It is highly recommended you seek legal assistance from Kennewick probate lawyers to navigate this process smoothly.
File the Petition
The first step in the administration of any estate is to file a petition with the court. This includes a copy of the death certificate as well as a copy of the will. The petition and other documents will be reviewed by the court before the probate is opened. It will be decided at this point who will be appointed executor.
If the executor, also known as administrator or personal representative, is named in the will, the court will almost certainly approve that person. If no one is named as executor, or if the person named is unable or unwilling to serve, the court must appoint someone else. While one of the beneficiaries may be chosen, an attorney or accountant for the estate may also be chosen if none of the heirs wish to take on the task.
Validate the Will
If the testator has left a will, the court authenticates it to ensure that it is the testator’s actual, intended will. Additionally, the court confirms that the will has the necessary notary and witnesses, as required by state law.
If your will contains a “self-proving” affidavit, the probate process will be expedited. This affidavit, signed by witnesses before a notary, attests that the will is valid. This eliminates any legal issue and the need for witnesses to testify to the validity of the will in court.
The executor will require a probate bond to shield them from any accusations of engaging in fraudulent behavior. This bond, which serves as a surety, covers the work they perform for the estate. The bond would protect them in the event that they made a mistake that cost the estate or heirs money.
Letters of Administration or Letters of Testamentary are given to the person once they have been selected or approved by the court. These records demonstrate their legitimacy to serve as estate managers. They now have the power to act as administrators or executors and make payments, sell property, and perform other duties.
Notify Beneficiaries and Creditors
The personal representative is now responsible for determining who the beneficiaries are and notifying creditors about the administration of the estate’s probate. After that, the creditors have a predetermined amount of time to submit their claims against the estate. Should they fail to respond within the allotted time, they will lose the ability to collect on those claims.
While the executor awaits word from the creditors, they will conduct an inventory of all the deceased’s assets. This could take only a few days on a small estate. It could last several months in a large estate.
The executor must locate all assets and obtain proof of ownership. They must safeguard the assets to ensure that they are not lost, stolen, or sold during this period. To pay their creditors, they may have to sell some of their assets. If the deceased person owned a business, it may be necessary to close it in order to liquidate it. This procedure can be time-consuming.
Appraise All Property and Assets to Determine the Estate
The personal representative must assess the value of all probate assets. This may involve obtaining real estate appraisals, creating a personal property inventory, and valuing assets. The personal representative may employ appraisers to determine the value of the estate’s assets.
Pay Estate Taxes and Valid Debts
It is necessary to pay estate taxes. If applicable, the executor must file personal or business tax returns and pay any amounts due. This must be completed prior to the distribution of the estate. They must wait for the returns to be approved to ensure that no modifications are made.
Typically, the first debts paid from an estate are funeral costs, final illness expenses, and estate taxes. The personal representative must also settle all debts including funeral costs and final illness expenses. All valid claims from creditors should be paid too. On behalf of the estate, the personal representative may also contest or settle creditor claims.
Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries
After completing all other duties, the executor is responsible for distributing the remainder of the estate to the heirs. This can be as easy as issuing funds to each individual. It can be more difficult if the deceased’s will stipulates the transfer of nonliquid assets. For instance, the deceased individual may have left their home to one of their children. It is the executor’s responsibility to ensure that the title is transferred to the new owner.
All heirs will receive distributions according to the laws of intestacy in the state of Washington if there is no will.
Close the Estate
The personal representative must file a final accounting with the court in order to close probate. The final accounting details the estate’s assets and the income generated from those assets. In addition, the report details all paid debts and distributions to beneficiaries or heirs.
When the court accepts this report, the personal representative is released from their probate responsibilities, and the probate estate is formally closed.
What Goes Through Probate?
Your probate estate includes any property and assets that are solely in your name. For instance, the value of any property you owned that was solely titled in your name would be added to your total probate estate. Therefore, knowing what probate property is useful and seeking legal services from a Kennewick probate lawyer will make a big difference.
Many assets, such as a bank account with a transfer-on-death designation, transfer without going through probate. If you designate a beneficiary for a transfer-on-death, they will get the bank account after your passing. Therefore, probate is not necessary. Similarly, life insurance proceeds do not form a part of your estate because they are paid out directly to your designated beneficiaries.
Assets exempt from the probate process include
- Bank and investment accounts with beneficiaries who receive transfers upon death
- Retirement accounts such as IRAs that have transfer-on-death beneficiaries
- Property that is held in joint tenancy
- Named beneficiary life insurance policies
- Lifetime donations and allocations
- Any asset held in trusts
Properties that undergo probate include
- Any retirement or stock account, bank account, or financial account in your sole name
- Titled real estate only in your name
- RVs, boats, and cars with your name only on the title
However, be aware that if you leave any accounts without a beneficiary designation, those accounts will become part of your probate estate. Moreover, imagine that the beneficiary you designate on an account passes away before you do. If that is the case, the account might not belong to anyone and end up in your probate estate.
How Long is the Probate Process?
The probate process can take anywhere from nine months to a year for a straightforward estate that is free of any complications. However, if there is a dispute over the will or the estate is substantial, the process could take two years or even longer.
A Kennewick probate lawyer can help speed up the process by filing your documents faster, complying with all regulations, and attending to all court queries regarding the estate.
Do All Properties Go Through Probate When A Person Dies?
Probate proceedings are not always required. Many assets can be transferred to new owners without the need for probate. Examples of common assets that do not require probate include:
- Assets owned in joint tenancy by the deceased person, which passes automatically to the surviving owners
- Assets governed by the terms of a community property agreement signed by the deceased individual and spouse or domestic partner
- Outside-of-will assets, for example, retirement accounts for which the deceased person named a beneficiary or payable-on-death bank accounts
- Proceeds from a life insurance or pension benefits payable to a named beneficiary
- Revocable living trusts assets
After excluding non-probate assets, if the property left in the estate is small enough, probate will not be required. Probate is usually required in large estates. Even if an estate must go through the probate process, Washington state offers a simplified version of probate that is available to many estates.
What is Considered Small Estates?
If the total value of the estate that must go through probate is low enough, then the process of probate will not be required. Estates with a value of up to $100,000 can avoid the probate process in Washington state. Beneficiaries only need to submit a straightforward affidavit to claim their inheritance.
Call our Experienced Kennewick Probate Lawyer Now!
We understand that the probate process can be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with it, especially in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. Our estate planning attorney in Kennewick WA will be with you every step of the way, ensuring that all requirements are met and that the estate administration is completed in the most efficient manner possible.
We at McBurney Law are here to assist you! We are dedicated to providing excellent probate services that fit your unique situations. Call our Kennewick probate lawyers today for an initial consultation!