How do I start a probate with the court?
A probate is done in a number of steps:
1. Open probate. You will need to prepare a petition to the court. The petition must ask the court to find a number of items: that the will is the last known will of the decedent; (2) that it was validly executed and attested (by at least two witnesses). The petition must also state whether the estate is solvent. The individual petitioning as personal representative will need to sign a sworn oath stating that he or she is the named personal representative and that he or she is willing and able to serve. If the petition is approved, the court will issue you an order admitting the will to probate and appointing personal representative of the estate. It will also issue you letters testamentary, which is your formal authorization to act on behalf of the estate. If the decedent died without a will, the procedure to appoint a personal representative is generally the same, but the terminology varies.
2. Notify all necessary parties of your appointment as personal representative. Once you have been appointed personal representative, you are required to give notice of your appointment to each individual named in the will, and any heirs (children, grandchildren, etc.) who are not named in the will. The beneficiaries must have an opportunity to challenge your appointment if they so choose.
3. Notify the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). You must also notify the Department of Social and Health Services of the state of Washington of your appointment. This notice allows the department to review its records to determine if the decedent or any beneficiary owes any unpaid child support.
4. Gather assets and information. Next, you will need to begin a review of the decedent’s assets and relevant information. This includes a thorough search for the location and account numbers of any bank and brokerage accounts, stock certificates, bonds, real estate deeds, insurance policies, and so forth. You will need to speak with life insurance agencies, pensions or any other benefits to obtain claim forms, apply for death benefits from the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration and/or employer pensions. Finally, you will want to inventory all automobiles, furniture, jewelry, and other possessions.
5. Prepare an inventory and appraisement. As you gather assets, you will need to create an estate inventory, listing each asset and the value of such asset as of the date of death. If an estate tax return is required to be filed, formal appraisals will be necessary in order to substantiate the value of certain assets. You will need to provide copies of the inventory to beneficiaries if they request it
6. Notify creditors. You will also need to gather information on the decedent’s debts. As the personal representative, it is your duty to inform all of the decedent’s creditors of his or her death. Your attorney can provide you with a notice to send to all known creditors. However, there may be some creditors that you don’t know about. Those creditors have up to two years to come forward and file a claim against the estate. You should publish a notice of the decedent’s death in a local newspaper and allowing it to run for three consecutive weeks to extinguish possible claims.
7. Manage estate assets during administration. The personal representative is responsible to manage and protect the assets of the estate. Responsibilities include setting up bookkeeping records, opening an estate checking account, collecting dividends and interest, paying bills, filing tax returns, collecting receipts for expenditures, maintaining insurance on assets, and supervising a business interest.
8. Distribute assets to beneficiaries. Once the taxes and other expenses have been paid, and the creditors claim period has expired, it is time to distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries. Once each beneficiary receives all of the property to which he or she is entitled, the personal representative will have the beneficiary sign a receipt for full distribution and a waiver of all future notices.
9. Close the estate. After all of the estate assets have been distributed, you can close the estate. You need to prepare a declaration for your signature providing a summary of your actions as personal representative. The declaration, together with the receipts from the beneficiaries, will be filed with the court.