A Washington last will and testament lets individuals dictate what will happen to their possessions after death. The individual drafting the will (the testator) can name beneficiaries, special bequests, and exclusions. In most cases, the testator will name a personal representative responsible for ensuring the estate is distributed according to the testator’s final wishes.
Any person of sound mind and at least 18 years old may draft a will.
Holographic Will – Handwritten wills are not generally allowed in Washington. Two witnesses must sign every will and meet all other requirements as dictated in the state statutes.
Revocation – If the will is destroyed in any way or replaced with a new will, it will be revoked. If the testator and their spouse get a divorce, any favorable provisions in the will towards the former spouse will be invalid.
Signing Requirements – The testator and at least two witnesses must sign the will.
Probate Process in Washington (11 Steps)
When the testator passes away, the person with the will has 30 days to deliver the will either to the Superior Court of any county or to the executor, who will then have 40 days to deliver it to the court.
- Appointing a Special Administrator (If Applicable)
- Gather Information
- File Court Documents
- Schedule a Hearing (If Applicable)
- Obtain a Probate Bond (If Applicable)
- Receive Letters Testamentary and Nonintervention Powers
- Notify Interested Parties
- Notify Creditors
- Prepare an Inventory and Appraisement
- Pay Debt and Taxes
- Close the Estate
The following is meant to be a general overview of the probate process. It is recommended that executors/personal representatives consult with an attorney if they’re unsure of any step.
In some cases where specific immediate actions must occur before a personal representative can be appointed, a special administrator may need to be appointed to act in their stead. For example, suppose the will is locked in a safety deposit box, and no personal representative can be determined. In that case, the court may give another party special authority to acquire the will.
The special administrator’s appointment is usually temporary, and they will need to turn over all of the estate’s assets and liabilities to the individual appointed to be the personal representative. The special administrator must also provide the court with a report of all their actions during their post.
Any individual who intends to act as personal representative must gather some information before attempting to open probate:
- The original will
- A copy of the death certificate – While no longer a requirement by Washington law, some judges may wish to review the death certificate. A death certificate may be obtained via the Washington State Department of Health or for residents of King County: kingcounty.gov.
- A list of names and addresses of all of the decedent’s known heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors
Before probate can be opened, some initial documentation must be filed with the Superior Court in the county where probate is being administered. Probate may be filed in any Washington county if the testator was a Washington resident.
- Case Types 3-6 Cover Sheet – Establishes the county, case type, and (if applicable) the attorney’s name.
- Petition for Probate of Will, Letters Testamentary, and Nonintervention Powers (SAMPLE) – Used by an individual to inform the court who the heirs are, declare the estate is solvent, ask to be named personal representative, and to receive letters testamentary and nonintervention powers.
- Oath of Personal Representative (SAMPLE) – A sworn statement by an individual stating that they qualify to act as personal representative and a promise that they will carry out their duties.
- Order Admitting Will to Probate and Will to Probate and Granting Letters Testamentary & Nonintervention Powers – This proposed order will grant the personal representative appointment, letters testamentary, and nonintervention powers and will be signed by a judge or court commissioner if they approve the petition.
As the largest county in Washington, King County has several specific forms to be used instead of the forms listed above:
- Death Certificate Coversheet (King County Only) – This is to be filed with a copy of the testator’s death certificate
- Case Designation Cover Sheet (King County Only) – A form used by King County courts to establish the type of case and designate the courthouse where probate will be filed.
- Verified Petition (King County Only) – A petition to open probate in King County, appoint the personal representative, and grant them nonintervention powers. This document also declares that the estate is solvent and who the heirs are.
- Oath of Personal Representative (King County Only) – An oath by King County personal representatives declaring their qualifications and commitment to their duties.
- Order Probating Will and Appointing Personal Representative (King County Only) – A proposed order that establishes probate and appoints the personal representative and is signed by the judge or court commissioner.
In every case, the testator’s original will must be submitted to the superior court.
In some cases, the petitioner may need to schedule a hearing before the court before they can be appointed as personal representative. This may be avoided if:
- The petitioner is the nominated personal representative/executor in the will.
- The petitioner has an original, self-proving will.
- All of the beneficiaries and heirs are adults who do not have mental disabilities.
Sometimes, the personal representative will be required to obtain a bond before the court will grant them Letters Testamentary. This helps ensure that the estate’s beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors receive what they are entitled to if the personal representative fails to uphold their duties in distributing the assets.
A bond is not required if:
- The will specifically waives the bond.
- The surviving spouse acts as the personal representative and the only heir or beneficiary.
- The personal representative is a bank or trust company.
The personal representative needs to seek nonintervention powers to make decisions regarding the estate without needing the probate court’s approval for every decision. Typically, the court will grant nonintervention powers as long as:
- The applying individual is the named personal representative in the will.
- The will does not prohibit these powers.
- The personal representative is not a creditor.
- The estate is solvent.
If the court does not grant these powers, the personal representative will need to seek approval for the majority of decisions and activities that are taken to facilitate the settlement of the estate.
When the judge or court commissioner is satisfied that the will is valid and accepts the Petition for Probate, they will grant Nonintervention Powers and Letters Testamentary to the personal representative. With those powers, the personal representative will be able to act on the estate’s behalf.
If any party objects to granting these powers to the personal representative, they may do so in writing and the court will decide the matter.
The personal representative must review the decedent’s financial records, income tax returns, correspondence, bank statements, or any other documentation that may uncover potential creditors. If the representative ascertains that a creditor does exist, then that creditor must be sent a Probate Notice to Creditors (SAMPLE) to inform them of probate proceedings. The creditor will then have four months to make a claim against the estate. A Declaration Ascertaining Creditors (SAMPLE) may be filed with the court to evidence the personal representative performing their due diligence. If the creditor is deemed “reasonably ascertainable” and is not provided notice, they will have up to two years to make a claim against the estate. The personal representative may reduce this claim period to four months if they elect to publish the Probate Notice to Creditors in a local newspaper. This notice must run for three straight weeks in a newspaper in the county where the probate is taking place.
If notice was published, the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) Office of Financial Recovery must be sent a copy of the Probate Notice to Creditors. After this, the personal representative must file a Declaration of Mailing of Probate Notice to Creditors WDSHS (SAMPLE) with the court.
If the personal representative chooses not to publish the Probate Notice to Creditors, the DSHS must be sent the Notice of Appointment and Pendency of Probate to WDSHS (SAMPLE) within 30 days of the personal representative’s appointment, and the attached declaration sent to the court.
The personal representative will have three months to complete a list of assets and their value that the decedent left behind. The Inventory and Appraisement Form (SAMPLE) may be used to accomplish this. This inventory does not need to be filed with the court, but the personal representative must provide a copy of the document within ten days of any request.
Once all heirs and beneficiaries receive the assets they are entitled to, the personal representative can ask them to execute a Receipt and Waiver by Heir or Beneficiary (SAMPLE). If the personal representative obtains this waiver from all heirs and beneficiaries entitled to receive property, they may then complete and file the Declaration of Completion of Probate (Distribution Complete) (SAMPLE) document with the court. Once this is completed, the representative will be relieved of their duties.
More Complex Method
If the personal representative is unable to obtain a Receipt and Waiver from each entitled heir or beneficiary, they will need to use another method before they can close the estate. A Declaration of Completion of Probate (Future Distribution) (SAMPLE) must be completed and filed with the court.
Within five days of filing the Declaration of Completion of Probate (Future Distribution), a Notice of Filing of Declaration of Completion of Probate and Declaration of Mailing (SAMPLE) form must be completed, filed with the court, and mailed to each listed heir or beneficiary.
If there are no objections within 30 days of filing the Declaration of Completion of Probate (Future Distribution), the personal representative will have five business days to transfer all remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries, after which probate will be complete.
- § 11.12.010
- § 11.12.020
- § 11.12.040
- § 11.12.051
- § 11.20.010
- § 11.32.010
- § 11.32.040
- § 11.31.060
- § 11.62.010
- § 11.96A.050(4)
- § 11.28.185
- § 11.28.010
- § 11.28.020
- § 11.28.237
- § 11.40.040
- § 11.40.051
- § 11.40.020
- § 11.44.015
- IRS Estate Tax Threshold
- Washington Department of Revenue Estate Tax Threshold
- § 11.68.110
- § 11.68.112