Probate in Washington
Chapter 1: The Simple Estate

Mike and his wife Sally had been married for 35 years when she passed away. They had three children, all grown with their own kids. They had Wills done 25 years ago when the children were small, but they never had them updated.  They’d accumulated joint bank accounts, a retirement account left to each other first, and then at the death of both, to the children equally, and they also had the usual assortment of things inside their apartment. When Mike died two years after Sally, the children came to see me. Nothing had been done when Sally died; Mike and Sally had owned everything together and Mike just went on handling the bills and using what they had when Sally died.

The eldest child was named in Mike’s Will as the personal representative (aka the executor or executrix). This was going to be a very easy case. The couple didn’t own real estate, there were no cars to transfer, and the accounts, totaling about $65,000, were held in Mike’s name alone. They had a life insurance policy of $100,000 left to the children in equal shares, and Mike had a retirement account of $250,000, also left to the children. Because this was a “small estate” (i.e., the assets other than life insurance and retirement accounts are valued at under $100,000), Washington doesn’t require a probate. The items in the apartment could be given to the children, or sold, and they, as a group, could divide the money or the things. The retirement accounts and life insurance had beneficiary designations, which means that as a part of the contract, the company managing the accounts and the policy has already been told how to distribute them at death. They don’t usually need any court attention, i.e., they are non-probate assets. I could simply prepare an “Affidavit of Heirship” for the eldest child, and the bank would release the funds to him. The affidavit swears that at least 40 days has passed since the death, all the probate assets total under $100,000, all the heirs have been notified of what he is doing, and that no probate has been filed or will be filed.

Washington does require that a Will be filed, so I filed both of them. I filed Sally’s with no other concerns. Usually, I’d have to worry about any creditors that Sally might have left behind, but she’d died two years ago. Creditors have to file claims for outstanding bills within a specific time, usually within four-months of the personal representative putting notice in the newspaper, or else within 24 months of death. Since two years had passed, any creditors of Sally had lost their opportunity to ask for money. Business people are supposed to look out for themselves and get after people who owe them money. If they didn’t do it by now, they were just out of luck. It costs $35 to file a “Will Only” case.

Mike was a little different story, but also pretty easy. We either had to give notice to creditors by “publishing” (i.e., putting a notice in the newspaper), or we had to sit out two years waiting for creditors. The easiest thing for us to do was to open a “Notice Only” case, rather than a full probate. It’s pretty simple. We file the Will with the Court, file a document in the Court that gives notice to creditors, alerting them that the oldest child is paying the bills, and then publish that notice in the newspaper.  We also have to send a copy of the notice to any creditors we know about. The process is relatively easy when creditors make a claim.  A “claim” from a creditor is something more than a bill, but I’ll talk more about that later.  The cost for opening a “Notice Only” case is $240, and the cost of publishing in Seattle is about $108 for newspaper publication.

This case was especially easy, because there was no controversy between the children and the assets were easy to divide. The oldest child got the $65,000 from the bank and divided it three ways, the insurance and the other accounts all named the three children as heirs and the claims for Mike were handled quickly.  The children received $315,000 outside of probate, but that doesn’t change the rules.  This case was handled very easily.