In Washington State, if someone leaves behind more than $100,000 in assets when they die and those assets do not already named beneficiaries through jointly held accounts, Transfer-on-Death, or Payable-On-Death structuring, then you’ll likely need a probate. Also, If the estate contains real estate it will likely need to go through probate, unless the property was held titled as “Joint Ownership with Right of Survivorship” or as community property with right of survivorship. Even if the Estate is small in value and doesn’t contain real estate, it may be beneifical to do a probate anyways. For example, if someone had a lot of debts and it seems it would be overwhelming to deal with them all, court oversight and the official timelines provided by a probate, may be useful and that would be another reason to conduct a probate of the estate. Also, if the individual was already involved in any legal disputes or if someone else is responsible for their death, probate may be the only way to resolve those issues.
Knowing the legal impact of how assets are titled and/or whether pending issues make probate necessary can be difficult to determine. At Phinney Estate Law we recommend that everyone facing a death get legal advice to help them determine whether they need to do a probate before acting on any assumptions they may have. We offer a free ½ hour consultation for potential probate clients at Phinney Estate Law and can often provide that advice within that time.
To maximize the benefits of that consultation we recommend that clients come to that meeting with the following:
- copies of any wills, trusts, or community property agreements the deceased person created during their life
- copies of any deeds, bank statements, investment statements
- car titles you can find
- notes about any debts or other assets you know they have and unfinished business going on in their lives at their time of death.
We recommend that you call any institutions or banks where the deceased person had accounts and ask them to tell you how those accounts were titled and if they had beneficiaries. Often they may not be able to answer your questions, if you have not yet opened a probate and that is okay. But knowing and much as you can, including what they won’t tell you without your opening a probate can very helpful. We recommend you write all the information you learn down word for word and bring it with you as grief can play tricks on your memory especially if you are feeling stressed.
Even if probate is not necessary, you may need to do legal process, such as a small affidavit process, a trust administration, or a beneficiary claim. A consultation can help you determine that as well.
Regardless of what process you end up needing to complete, anyone who has a deceased person’s will has 40 days in which to file it with the court. You don’t need to open up a probate that quickly but if you are going to do so, it makes sense to do that at the same time. That is also generally a good deadline to set for yourself for figuring out what process you are going to go through and staring it. To make that work you should plan on trying to set up a consultation within 30 days of the person’s death if possible.
To learn more about Probates read the next post in this series.