Popular Misconceptions about Probate

Probate has its “horror stories”:

  1. The uncooperative heirs or beneficiaries?
  2. The Court fights?
  3. The demanding creditors?
  4. The procrastinating Executor?
  5. The telephone non-answering attorney?
  6. The $$$ death taxes?
  7. The unnecessary costs?
  8. The interminable delays?

But if any of these do occur, they usually are going to occur regardless of whether or not a Decedent used a Will, a Living Trust, or some other method of property transfer and whether or not his/her estate is probated.  The solution to minimizing the possibility of any of these horror stories from becoming a reality lies not in the selection of one or another type of legal document as the vehicle for one’s estate plan or the decision whether or not to employ the probate process in the administration of one’s estate upon death — but in pro-actively:

  • Identifying potential problems,
  • Resolving them now as much as is possible, and
  • Taking appropriate steps to minimize their anticipated effects in the future.

The probate process itself is rarely the problem.

If a problem does arise upon death, the probate process is uniquely able to provide the needed structure and neutral, third-party oversight that often leads to a fair, just, and healing solution consistent with one’s desires and values.

Furthermore, the probate process, especially in Washington as a result of its unusually liberal and consumer-oriented probate laws, can be remarkably simple, quick, and inexpensive — and advantageous to you and your beneficiaries:

So long as you have a properly drafted Will !

Your property will be collected and managed.

Your debts will be paid.

Your taxes will be determined and settled.

Your assets will be distributed to your intended beneficiaries.

And just as with a Living Trust, you get to choose:

  • Who you wish to be responsible for seeing that these actions are promptly and efficiently performed, and
  • To provide your chosen representative with what are known under Washington law as “Nonintervention Powers,” which give him/her more flexibility and legal authority over your estate than a Trustee has over a Living Trust.

For practical (as opposed to legal) reasons, the probate process should take around six months:

  • To open the probate,
  • For the four-month Creditor’s Claim statute of limitations to expire after first publication of the Notice to Creditors, and
  • To close the probate and distribute all its assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.

It might take longer with a more complicated estate or if an estate tax return is required to be filed and especially if an estate tax is required to be paid.

It should cost a few hundred dollars so long as a family member or friend is willing and able to act as Personal Representative, do so without charge, and not engage professional help.  If legal assistance is needed or desired, it can be charged only on the basis of time spent, not on the value of the estate, and its total charge is limited to what the probate Court will approve.

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