Probate is a judicial process by which a deceased individual’s estate is administered and distributed. If there is a Will, then the Will is admitted to probate by the Court and a Personal Representative (“PR”-a/k/a-“Executor”) is appointed to administer the Estate. The PR receives “Letters Testamentary” often referred to as simply “Letters” which third parties (i.e. banks & financial institutions) request to confirm the PR’s authority to act on behalf of the deceased individual’s estate. Note-if there is No Will, then the process is the same except that an Administrator is appointed by the Court and receives “Letters of Administration” issued by the Clerk of the Court. Any Powers of Attorney created by the decedent during life will cease to be effective upon death.
TO DO STEPS
- Please either email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (425) 454-0915 for an appointment.
- Download the Inventory Worksheet.
- Download the Summary of Necessary Documents.
- Do the BEST you can to obtain the information for the Inventory and Summary of Necessary Documents. For our initial appointment, please bring in the Original Will/Codicil/Trust Agreement & if possible, a certified copy of death certificate. For the financial information you may find it easier to simply bring in copies of recent bank & brokerage statements (preferably for the month ending prior to date of death), and if applicable, any employment related financial information (i.e. group-term life insurance & retirement accounts). At the initial appointment, we will review the financial information and identify additional financial information and other documentation which may need to be obtained.
- Bring the legal documents and statements and any other pertinent information with you to our initial appointment.
The PR’s duty is to identify and collect the decedent’s assets, identify any liabilities, review and pay allowable creditor claims (typically claims arising prior to the decedent’s death), prepare, file and pay any taxes (typically federal and/or state estate taxes, federal income tax returns (decedent’s final return-IRS Form 1040) and estate income tax returns (IRS Form 1041), pay expenses of adminstration and finally distribute the net remaining assets pursuant to decedent’s Will or if there is no Will then in accordance with the intestate laws of the State of Washington. The process could involve seeking an appointment of a guardian for any minor child(ren).
If the PR receives Non-Intervention Powers (NIP), then the PR may administer and close the Estate without any further involvement from the Court. If the Will authorizes the PR to obtain NIP and the estate is solvent then usually the Court will grant NIP to the PR. This is a significant feature of Washington probate & typically only requires the attorney to attend an initial Court Hearing to secure the appointment of the PR and obtain NIP.
The probate typically needs to remain open for at least four (4) months to account for any potential creditor claims and any potential proceedings to contest the Will. Substantial distribution(s) may occur prior to the expiration of the four (4) month period. However, the PR should retain sufficient monies/assets to pay for any potential creditor claims, expenses of administration (i.e fees for attorney, accountant and PR) and anticipated tax liabilities, if any. If any federal and/or state estate tax returns need to be filed (typically due nine (9) months from date of death), then the probate estate will remain open until an Estate Tax Closing letter has been received from the appropriate taxing agency (which may take up to 9-12 monts from the filing date of the estate tax return).
The PR has the duty to identify the decedent’s assets, i.e. real estate, bank & brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, annuities, tangible personal property, life insurance, etc, including a determination of date of death fair market value for such assets. Also, the PR needs to identify any of decedent’s liaibilities. The “Probate Assets” consists of those assets which pass via the decedent’s Will. In addition, the PR needs to identify the “Non-Probate Assets”, typically joint accounts with right of survivorship, or life insurance and retirement accounts which pass via beneficiary designations independent from the Wills, but which are considered as owned by the decedent at the time of death. In addition, the decedent may have created and funded a Revocable Trust during his or her lifetime and the Trust document will set forth the terms of distribution at death. The Revocable Trust is another example of a Non-Probate Asset because such assets typically will not pass through the decedent’s Will.
If all of decedent’s assets (“Gross Estate”) as defined for Federal &/or State Estate Tax purposes exceeds the relevant current exemption amount (2013 Federal Estate Tax exemption = $5,250,000) & (2013 Washington State Estate Tax Exemption = $2 million), then estate tax returns as appropriate may need to be filed and possibly estate taxes paid. As a tax attorney, we routinely prepare both Federal and State Estate Tax returns.