How Long Do You Have To File Probate After Death in Washington State?

Filing probate after death in Washington State might feel like a complicated, daunting process, especially when you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one. If you are the Executor of the will, it’s important to file probate. But how long do you have to file?

If you are the named Executor of the Will, you must file probate within 30 days of the decedent’s death. If you don’t file, or you are late to file, you could potentially waive your rights as Executor. If you mishandle the estate it’s possible you might face personal liability, including being taken to civil or criminal court.

Probate Filing Time Limits

Many states have time limits and unique processes for filing probate. Missing the deadline for filing isn’t generally considered a criminal offense, but the executor can be sued if someone is financially affected or harmed by the lack of filing, especially if malicious intent can be proven. While Washington State does not require a probate to be filed, it does require that any Will be filed within 40 days of death. 

Not filing for probate can make it difficult or impossible to validate a will, meaning the estate could be treated as if the person died intestate. The deceased person’s will and wishes might go unresolved by the courts. The estate itself can even be affected if the probate isn’t promptly filed, and estates might become delinquent on things such as home insurance premiums, vehicle registrations, and property taxes. If you wait too long to file, creditors can continue to go after an estate and put it into collections.

With a Will and Executor

If the decedent names a person in their Last Will and Testament, that executor should file a probate. Most Wills name their executor, which is the person in charge of executing the deceased person’s will and their intentions for their estate. The executor works with the court during the probate process, communicates updates to estate beneficiaries, and negotiates with creditors to keep an accurate accounting of the estate during the process so that they can distribute assets to beneficiaries.

With a Will but No Executor

If a Will does not name their executor, someone else will need to file a petition for probate. Anyone may file this petition and request the courts appoint them as the estate’s representative, but this honor is usually reserved for family members, typically a spouse or adult child.

Without a Will

Sometimes a person dies intestate—which means without a will. Someone will then need to file a petition with the court to be appointed as the estate’s executor, usually a family member.

It’s never too late to file for probate in Washington State, but the sooner you file the better. Filing your petition early has advantages including:

  • Reducing the damage of creditor claims.
  • Adhering to important deadlines.
  • Heirs get their inheritance sooner.
  • It begins the statute of limitations on any estate disputes.
  • Deadlines can be adhered to properly.
  • It avoids diminishing estate assets.

Factors Influencing Filing Timeframes in a Probate Process?

The probate process can take some time. If you’ve ever spoken with anyone who has gone through the process, you might be shocked to learn that it takes months and even years to resolve. The length of probate varies from state to state, which is why it’s so important to file for probate as soon as possible. It’s important to know when you have to apply for probate.

There are a number of factors that influence the timeframe of filing probate, such as:

  • The lack of a valid Will
  • The wrong estate executor
  • Conflict among beneficiaries
  • A high number of estate beneficiaries
  • An unusual number of debts

The probate process requires a number of steps that are eased by having an attorney at your side. Any number of complications can arise, extending the timeframe of the probate process and ensuring that the estate is not resolved for some time. Even correcting minor issues with a Will can be troubling and difficult, as the executor is saddled with a number of responsibilities, and if any of these responsibilities are fumbled the process will take even longer.

How Does the Probate Process Work in Washington State?

Probate in Washington State usually takes around six months to a year. It can take longer if there is a court fight over a contested will, or if there are unusual assets and debts. Matters can be complicated for any number of reasons, but unless there’s a real dispute it truly comes down to just filing paperwork. You also need to find out what documents you should present to your probate lawyer.

Probate proceedings in Washington State aren’t always necessary. There are many assets that can be transferred to new owners without probate, such as:

  • Assets the decedent owned jointly with others
  • Assets subject to community property agreements
  • Assets for which the beneficiary was named outside of the will, such as retirement accounts
  • Assets held in a living trust

If probate is necessary in regard to the decedent’s Will, the named executor must go to the Washington superior court in the decedent’s county and begin the process. The executor files the will with a Petition for Probate. If there’s no will, or the named executor isn’t able to serve, the probate court will appoint its own administrator. The court then issues a Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration document that is proof of the representative’s legal authority to manage the estate. 

The personal executor is entitled to collect a fee for working for the estate. The Will might include directions for how to calculate this fee, but if it doesn’t the amount is based on the work done and must be approved by the court. 

What Happens If I Miss a Deadline to File a Probate?

There are some potential negative consequences that could stem from not filing for probate or missing important deadlines. Some incentives include the inability to transfer property or assets in a decedent’s name if you refuse to take action. If you wish to inherit property, it’s a good idea to file for probate and adhere to any deadlines. You could potentially get sued by any beneficiaries, and any issues pertaining to the Will might remain permanently unresolved. Every county in Washington is different, and your attorney can help you file Probate and Wills in Spokane, WA court, for instance. 

Do I Need a Probate Lawyer?

Managing the administration process of any estate is cumbersome and frustrating, even if the Will seems particularly straightforward. Probate code and law can be complicated at the best of times, and each probate case is different. There are a number of factors that can complicate the process, not to mention having to maneuver through the legal systems while you’re trying to manage your own life. 

An experienced probate lawyer can help streamline the process for you. With a trusted legal representative by your side, you can reduce the headaches of being an executor. Plus, a probate attorney can handle the deadlines, paperwork, and legal responsibilities of managing an estate. You might be wondering how to find a good probate attorney. With a trusted attorney from Skyview Law on your side you’ll never miss a deadline or forget a debt.

Conclusion

The probate process is complicated, and while the laws vary state by state there are many pros to filing a probate within a reasonable time frame. While probate law might be different in Washington, it will behoove you to have a trusted lawyer on your side who can help you throughout the process. Filing a probate after a decedent’s passing benefits all involved, and can make the distribution of an estate as smooth as possible.

Jarrod Hays

Jarrod Hays

Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.