In Washington, estate administration is the process of taking care of the business of someone who has passed away so that their estate can be closed. In Washington, estate matters are handled by the Superior Court system. There are two main goals for the process. First, the decedent’s debt must be paid. Second, the ownership of the decedent’s probate estate must be transferred to those who are legally entitled to it. Court supervised administration is a legal requirement even if the decedent did not leave a will. To initiate an estate case, a petition must be filed in the probate court (Superior Court) in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of their death. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.20.020.
Washington Personal Representative
The personal representative, also called the executor or estate administrator, is the person appointed by the court to represent the estate and manage the estate administration process. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.48.010. Generally, if the decedent left a will, their choice for personal representative would be in the will. However, the person must meet the statutory qualifications. A personal representative must have reached the age of majority, must be mentally competent, must not be a convicted felon, and must not have been convicted of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.36.010.
Even if a person was nominated in the decedent’s will, the court must officially appoint the person before they have authority to proceed. The personal representative may be required to furnish a bond.
Responsibilities of a Washington Personal Representative
Administration is a legal proceeding initiated with the court. However, most of the activities take place outside of the courtroom and are handled by the personal representative, such as:
Inventorying and appraising probate assets. Early in the administration process the property in the estate must be identified and appraised. The list of property and their values must be detailed in an inventory and filed with the court within 3 months of appointment of the personal representative. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.44.015. The inventory must include descriptions of the following property, if any:
- Real property
- Stocks and bonds
- Mortgages, notes, and other written evidences of debt
- Bank accounts and money
- Furniture and household goods
- All other personal property
Upon written request, the personal representative must furnish a copy of the inventory to beneficiaries, heirs, and claimants.
Pay estate debt. One of the primary goals of estate administration is to pay the debts the decedent left behind. The personal representative must give notice to creditors that the probate case has been initiated. The timeframe in which creditor’s claims must filed is based on when notice was given. If the creditor was notified personally, the creditor must file their claim within 30 days of when they were served or when the notice was mailed to them. Otherwise, claims must be filed within 4 months of when notice was published.
The personal representative is required to evaluate and pay claims that are timely filed and valid, but only to the extent that there are sufficient assets in the estate to do so.
Distribution of assets. Once debts have been settled and expenses of administration have been paid, the estate is ready to be closed. Upon approval from the court, the personal representative must then distribute the assets that remain in the estate to the beneficiaries named in the will in the manner described in the will.
If there is no will, Washington law dictates who would be entitled to the decedent’s estate. Potential heirs are limited to the decedent’s surviving spouse, descendants, parents, siblings, and other blood relatives, with the primary heirs being the decedent’s surviving spouse and children. The statute indicates the order in which relatives would be entitled to inherit. Wash. Rev. Code § § 11.04.015
Timeframe for Estate Administration in Washington
In Washington, estate administration generally takes about 6-12 months. However, probate disputes and other factors can extend the process. There are also options for expedited administration and asset distribution for uncomplicated estates with minimal assets.
Probate Disputes in Washington
Disputes sometimes develop during the estate administration process. If they cannot be resolved by the parties through out-of-court negotiation or mediation, the parties must litigate the issues before the probate court judge. Only those who are “interested” parties have the legal right to initiate probate litigation. Depending on the nature of the dispute, interested parties typically include beneficiaries, beneficiaries of prior will, heirs, the personal representative, and creditors. Common types of probate disputes include:
- Disagreements over the validity of the will
- Disputes with fiduciaries
- Objections by beneficiaries or heirs to the accounting
- Will interpretation
Any type of probate dispute can significantly slowdown the process and add to the expenses.