The initial stages of dealing with the loss of a loved friend or family member can be a difficult, stressful and sorrowful time. Our office will do everything we can to help you through the legal procedures that are involved in settling the affairs of the decedent; this is usually done through the Court by probate.
With a valid Will and a qualified personal representative, the Court may grant nonintervention powers to the PR (nonintervention powers allow the PR to administer and close the estate without further interaction with or supervision by the Court). There are circumstances, however, when this may not be the case and the Court will not grant such powers and the Personal Representative may have to apply for a Personal Representative Bond and request Court approval for estate activity.
If the decedent passed without a Will, the Administration of the Estate will take place through the Court. Probate, in this situation, can be more time-consuming and costly. All of the decedent’s known heirs need to be identified and notified of the decedent’s passing. Depending on the timing of the filing of a probate, the heirs may need to agree upon the nomination of the Personal Representative of the estate. He or she, in turn, will require qualification from the Court before being issued with Letters of Administration. In the absence of a valid Last Will and Testament, the distribution of the decedent’s assets to his or her legal heirs is made according to Washington state law.
The personal representative is required to prepare an inventory of the financial, personal, and real property of the estate. If requested, a copy of the inventory is provided to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. By statute, the inventory is to be completed within three (3) months of filing the probate.
We mail notice of the decedent’s death to the Department of Social and Health Services and to the Department of Revenue for the State of Washington, if applicable. It is important to determine how much, if any, money is owing to these government agencies.
Credit card statements, medical bills, utility bills, mortgage payment statements, County real estate property tax statements and car loan payment statements are all examples of important documents to collect during the initial stages of the probate process. We may mail Notice of the decedent’s death to any potential creditor; this requires the creditor to file a claim for payment of the debt with the Court within a four month time frame or forfeit their claim. During the probate process, we will explore and discuss the best way to respond to any particular creditor claims.
Real property in another state, or in another country, will necessitate probate in that state or country. This ancillary procedure provides for the distribution of assets per the “foreign” law of that jurisdiction. This adds another layer of legal work to the process as well as additional time and costs.
Once the distribution of assets has been finalized, and the debts of the estate dealt with, we may begin the process of wrapping up the administration of the estate. We accomplish this by obtaining a variety of different documents then file the necessary Closing documents with the Court.
If, for any reason, there are delays in the process that will extend the period of probate, we will need to file an update with the Court called a Status Report. A wrongful death claim, prolonged litigation or difficulty with estate taxes may require us to submit a Status Report to the Court.
There are other means that provide for the distribution of the assets of the decedent which may be accomplished by filing a Final Report and Petition for Court Intervention Decree.
The first appointment should be with the personal representative nominated in the Will. If the named PR is unable or unwilling to serve, or if there is no Will, the initial appointment should be with the surviving spouse, other family member or close friend. It is helpful if you bring:
Between the initial meeting and the second meeting, the attorney will prepare a variety of documents to be filed with the Court. The personal representative will sign these documents during the second meeting. The documents include:
The attorney will go to the Court to file the probate once the client has signed the documents noted above. During the court appearance, the court commissioner will review the request to sign orders appointing the client to administer the estate and allowing the client to serve with nonintervention powers. The Court will issue letters testamentary to the personal representative to provide legal notice to third parties of the personal representative’s appointment. The Courts also allow the attorney to mail or deliver the paperwork to the Court to open a probate.
NOTE: If the decedent died intestate, the Court appoints an administrator for the estate. The duties of the administrator are essentially the same as those of a personal representative.
The attorney will arrange for a Notice to Creditors to be published in the local paper once the personal representative/administrator has been officially appointed by the Court. Once the Notice to Creditors is published, creditors have four months to file claims. The estate can be closed after the four months if all other work related to the estate can be completed during that time.
In certain instances we may not need to file a formal probate proceeding with the Court; instead we may file a Notice to Creditors proceeding. In this case we publish a Notice to Creditors and mail the Notice to all known creditors. This procedure serves to “cut off” a creditor if a claim is not properly presented within 120 days. If actual Notice is not sent to all known creditors, the statute of limitations for those creditors’ claims against the estate will be twenty-four (24) months after the date of the decedent’s death.
During the four month period, the personal representative/administrator needs to:
Also the personal representative/administrator is required to make a reasonably diligent effort to ascertain all of the decedent's creditors and give actual notice to all of those creditors that can be identified. The attorney will assist the personal representative/administrator in completing this task. When complete, the attorney will prepare a declaration for the personal representative or administrator to sign confirming efforts to identify and to notify all of the estate's creditors.
During this period, the attorney will provide notices to the heirs, the Office of Financial Recovery and the Department of Revenue for the State of Washington as required by statute. The attorney will work closely with the personal representative/administrator to handle the decedent’s liabilities and to create an inventory of the decedent's assets.
The personal representative/administrator will want a CPA to assist in all tax matters related to the estate due to the possible complex issues.
The personal representative is entitled to receive reasonable compensation for services as personal representative. The personal representative can opt to waive a fee. Regardless, the personal representative should keep a careful record of services completed. These records will be useful in determining the amount, if any, the personal representative may request as a fee. The personal representative should also keep careful track of his or her out of pocket expenditures and keep all receipts.
A final distribution to all beneficiaries/heirs can be made after the four-month period for creditor's claims has expired, and all claims, taxes, and fees of the estate are paid. The distribution must be pursuant to the terms of the Will (if any) or the requirements of intestate succession.
Once the final distribution has been made and a Declaration of Completion filed with the Court, the personal representative will be discharged and the probate will close.
A claimant (beneficiary or heir) to the assets of the estate needs to approach the institution/person holding the assets, and sign and deliver an Affidavit and a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate to the institution/person. There may be instances where the holder of the decedent’s assets (a bank, for example) may refuse to release funds this way, in which case we would need to petition the Court for an Order directing the bank to release the funds or initiate a probate.
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