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  • What is Probate? Probate is the legal process of distributing a person’s assets and paying off debts after that person passes away.
  • How long is probate? Washington has one of the shortest and simplest probate processes in the country, and it typically only lasts 4-6 months.  Most of that time is spent waiting out the 4-month period of time creditors have to make a valid claim against the estate.  Compare this to a state like California, where probates last an average of 18 months!
  • Is probate hard? Probate is not usually hard, especially if family members get along.
  • Should I try to avoid probate? Not necessarily.  Simple estates + good family relationships = simple probates (often)
  • How can I avoid probate? Several ways:
    1. Estates worth less than $100,000 + no debts
    2. Community Property Agreement – only applies after the death of the first spouse
    3. Revocable Living Trust (if property has been properly placed in trust)
    4. Insolvent estate (more debts than assets)
    5. Only having assets that are not subject to probate.
  • What sorts of assets are not subject to probate? Some examples include joint bank accounts, life insurance, anything with a payable-on-death designation, some brokerage accounts, assets in some types of trusts, transfer on death deeds, and others.
  • Will my estate be subject to estate taxes? It depends.  There are 2 possible estate taxes that may apply.
    1. Federal estate tax – applies to estates worth greater than $5.45 million.
    2. WA estate tax – applies to estates worth greater than $2.01 million.
    3. No estate tax if you pass away with less than $2.01 million.
  • Is there an inheritance tax?   There is no federal inheritance tax, and WA does not have an inheritance tax.  Some states do have an inheritance tax.
  • What happens if someone dies without a Will? Probate will likely still be necessary.  WA law has a hierarchy for who can inherit after a person passes away without a Will:
    1. Spouse then children then parents then siblings, and so on.
  • Do family members have to pay the deceased person’s debts personally? Only if the family member has co-signed on the debt. Otherwise, family members are NOT personally liable.  However, the deceased person’s home may be foreclosed on if there is an outstanding mortgage.  Credit cards, medical bills, and other debts only in the deceased person’s name do NOT have to be paid by the surviving family members.