What is Probate?
Probate is the court process that legally transfers your assets to other places after you die. If you die with a Will, the Will is administered through Probate. If you die without a Will, your assets will go to your closest relatives, but the process will include a date with the courts. If you want to make the whole experience smoother for your loved ones, take the necessary steps now, while you’re still alive, to hire an estate planning attorney to get a proper Will drafted and signed.
How can I make the Probate process easier for my loved ones who will survive me?
Be specific about emotional items. If you have family heirlooms or items that are likely to have a great deal of emotional value to your loved ones, take the time now to decide how you would like your items distributed. If you can, write a note to each of your loved ones separately. Choose a big-picture person. In your Will, you’ll appoint a Personal Representative.
Your Personal Representative is the one who will be in charge of determining what assets you have, what debts your estate needs to pay off, what distributions should be made from your estate, and to whom those distributions should be made. Decide which provisions you do and do not want in your Will.
There are a number of Will statutes in Washington. Some of these statutes can make the Probate process more cumbersome for your loved ones to follow. With a little bit of careful planning (unless you want to revenge), your Will can be structured to avoid a burdensome process. Allow room in your Will to “self-adjust.” Your Will can be prepared to adapt to your changing needs.
As an example, it’s typical for new parents to create a will after their first child is born and then not revisit their Wills for years, even if they continue to have more children. If you are a new parent, your Will can be drafted to adjust your distributions so that future children are included.
Use additional legal tools to streamline the Probate process.
- Depending on your circumstances, your attorney may recommend a Revocable Living Trust. These come in handy if you own property, or interest in a property, outside of Washington State.
- If you live in Washington and are married, you may want to enter into a Community Property Agreement to protect your assets in case of divorce. It might make sense to change your property titles to reflect Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship.
- Some people create Payable on Death Accounts. These are all methods worth discussing with an attorney.