Probate is the process in which the court monitors payments of estate debt and distribution of its assets according to the decedent’s wishes. If there is no will, the state divides the estate among the qualifying relatives. You can avoid a lengthy probate procedure in the Washington courts with proper estate planning.
Estate administration and probate
A will names an executor, which is a personal representative who has a fiduciary duty to notify heirs and shepherd the estate’s settlement process through probate court. An executor’s responsibilities include the following:
- Taking the will to the court for validation
- Locating and notifying heirs and beneficiaries
- Locating and paying creditors
- Inventorying and appraising assets
- Liquidating non-monetary assets that aren’t explicitly bequeathed
- Carrying out the deceased’s directives for who gets what
- Filing income tax
- Filing paperwork to close the estate
While estate administration and probate may appear to be a short, relatively easy process, time-consuming complications can cause delays. For example, heirs and beneficiaries may be difficult to locate, and some types of assets, like artwork and real estate, may take time to sell.
Probate processes estate possessions that are not jointly owned or have no named account beneficiary. The following types of assets bypass the probate process.
Bank, retirement and brokerage accounts
Bank checking and saving accounts, 401ks and IRAs and brokerage accounts allow the account owner to name one or more beneficiaries. These named account beneficiaries supersede any conflicting designation in a will.
Life insurance annuities
Beneficiaries of a life insurance annuity with a death-benefit provision may choose a lump-sum payment or streaming payments. How long these payments continue depends on the terms of the initial agreement.
Jointly owned real estate
If the deceased jointly owned real estate, their share of the property passes to the survivor without going through probate. This one step can significantly shorten the time it takes to complete the probate process.
A trust account is more complicated to maintain than the previously mentioned measures. However, if an individual transfers every significant possession into a trust, the estate settles quickly. The trust owns the assets, and the trustee transfers bequeathments to the named beneficiaries according to the grantor’s final directives.
An estate plan can be as simple as a will or may include a trust account. Whichever path you choose, fast-track your estate’s settlement by naming a beneficiary whenever the opportunity arises.