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How Long Does The Probate Process Take?

Estate Planning

When someone passes away, the assets of their estate must be administered. In many cases, the administration of a deceased person’s estate will involve going through the probate process. Many estate owners enact certain provisions in their estate plan to avoid or limit the probate process, which can be lengthy. But exactly how long does the probate process take? The answer to this question depends on a number of unique factors, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For more information about the probate process and other estate planning matters, contact the experienced estate planning lawyers of Baxter Legal Services at 425-686-0574.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of a court reviewing a will to determine if the document is valid and truly the last will and testament of the deceased person. Additionally, probate refers to the process of administering a will or the estate of a deceased individual who did not have a will at the time of their death. After a property owner passes away, a probate court will review the individual’s assets and make a final ruling on how the assets will be divided and distributed among the beneficiaries.

The Role of a Will in the Probate Process

The steps of the probate process will vary depending on whether or not the estate owner had a will. Administering an estate will be much more complicated without a will, which is one of many reasons why everyone should have a will. A will provides instructions for how assets should be distributed after the asset holder passes away. 

The Probate Process with a Will

A deceased individual who had a will at the time of their death is called a testator, and the individual responsible for beginning the probate process and enacting the terms of the will is known as the executor. Estate owners often appoint a financial advisor as the executor of their will. The executor is tasked with filing the will in probate court within a certain timeframe, which varies depending on the state of residence of the deceased person. This court filing begins the probate process and the court will officially appoint the executor named in the will, providing them with the legal right to act on behalf of the deceased estate owner.

Once the executor has been officially appointed by the court, he or she will have several responsibilities:

  • Identify and oversee all of the deceased individual’s assets
  • Estimate how much the estate is worth
  • Pay any taxes and debts owed by the deceased using assets from the estate
  • File the estate owner’s final income tax returns on their behalf
  • Seek court authorization to distribute the remainder of the estate to beneficiaries
  • If the estate owner’s debts exceed their assets, the probate process may not be initiated

How Does Probate Work When There is No Will?

Picture of lawyer with gavel in front

Someone who dies without a will or with a will that the court considers invalid is considered to have died intestate. When this happens, the probate process will involve distributing the deceased individual’s assets based on state laws. In most states, the assets will be divided among the estate owner’s surviving spouse and children. If the deceased individual did not own any assets at the time of their death, the probate process may be skipped.

In the state of Washington, distributing the estate of someone who died intestate is covered under state law RCW 11.04.015.

Factors that Affect the Length of the Probate Process

So how long does the probate process take? Several different factors can affect the total time for completing the probate process, including:

  • The size and value of the estate
  • The type of assets included in the estate
  • Whether there are any disputes between creditors and beneficiaries of the estate
  • The number of beneficiaries
  • Disputes between family members and/or beneficiaries regarding the terms of the will

The probate process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on the circumstances surrounding the estate. You can get a better idea of how long your family member’s estate will be in probate by discussing your family’s situation with one of the experienced estate planning lawyers at Baxter Legal Services.

How Can the Probate Process be Avoided?

In Washington and many other states, the probate process is not always necessary. Washington state law says that estates with a total asset value less than $100,000 can bypass the lengthy and complicated probate process. Additionally, portions of the estate that are listed as “payable on death” do not need to go through the formal probate process and can be paid to named beneficiaries upon the death of the account owner. 

Bypassing Probate Through a Living Trust

The ability to bypass the probate process is one of the main reasons to consider setting up a living trust as part of an estate plan. Just about any asset can be included in a living trust, including real estate, vehicles, investment accounts, bank accounts, and more. Living trusts allow these assets to be passed down to heirs upon the asset owner’s death automatically, without the need to go through probate.

Joint Tenancy Property Ownership

Real estate holdings, vehicles, bank accounts, and other high-value assets can be passed down without probate by listing the assets as jointly owned in the estate plan. This type of joint ownership is legally known as joint tenancy, according to Washington state law Chapter 64.28 RCW. Joint tenancy is most commonly used to establish joint ownership of assets between the estate holder and their spouse.

Learn More About How an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help with Probate

Do you have questions like “how long does the probate process take?” or other estate planning questions? Estate planning is a complicated process and it is extremely important to make sure your estate plan is structured in a way that addressed your needs and preferences. Many estate owners turn to the services of experienced estate planning lawyers for assistance throughout this process. At Baxter Legal Services, our team of experienced Washington estate planning lawyers specializes in helping our clients develop strong estate plans that address their needs. For more information about the probate process and other estate planning matters, contact Baxter Legal Services today at 425-686-0574.