Q. How can I avoid the probating of my estate?

A. First, we should define Washington Probate, as most people do not understand what it means.

Washington Probate is the administration of estates.  A personal representative or attorney will present your will, if you have one, to the probate court with an inventory of assets and liabilities of your estate.  The procedure of administering or carrying out your last wishes and desires and the expense involved in changing title to property is called probate.  Probate as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary is “the act or process of proving a will.”

Contrary to popular belief, items or property that are left in a will, unless jointly held, do have to be probated.  Thus, items left to your children or other family members would have to go through the probate procedure.  This procedure could easily take up to one year or more and be of considerable expense.  Those persons who die without a will leave their estate exposed to the State of Washington in providing a will and deciding upon the personal representative.

“Probate” is a court proceeding in which final debts are settled and legal title to property is formally passed from the deceased person. Probate laws are state specific and in Washington a probate is necessary if the property subject to probate exceeds $100,000, or contains any real property (real estate). See RCW 11.62.01(2)(c)

The time to complete a probate varies widely, from a few months or less to many years, depending on many factors. More information on Probate is available at the Washington State Bar Association’s website on Probate.



There are three kinds of property that can pass to your heirs at your death without going through the probate procedure. They are the following:

  1. Most property owned jointly with the right of survivorship;
  2. Property held in a living trust;
  3. Life insurance payable to a named beneficiary.

It should be pointed out that not all property held jointly avoids probate; that trusts created in wills do not avoid probate; and that insurance left to the estate does not avoid probate.

Careful estate planning often involves the teamwork of an attorney, a CPA or accountant, an insurance agent, and a financial planner. Of all the above mentioned, the attorney should control the input from the other team members, and only he is authorized to practice law and advise you of the legal ramifications of your estate plan.

You should be extremely cautious of persons offering to provide estate analysis who are merely trying to sell you a product. Such decisions should be reviewed with an attorney.

If you don’t have a Will, your assets will be distributed by a process known as intestate succession. Intestate means “without a Will.”

Renée E. Stein can answer you questions about Probate and help you prepare and file one for you.