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Probate and Real Estate – What You Need To Know

By Jean Groesbeck


I received an informative email from Chicago Title and Escrow that I believe is worth sharing. Keep in mind that while it provides valuable information, it is not a substitute for legal advice, and the rules may change. It’s highly recommended that anyone buying or selling a home consults with an attorney and updates their will whenever they engage in real estate transactions.

Here are some important points to know about probate in Washington State:

  • Probate Overview: Probate in Washington State is a court-supervised process that deals with administrating and determining property ownership for a deceased person (the decedent). These cases are handled in the Superior Courts of each county in Washington.
  • Personal Representatives: Typically, the decedent names their personal representative in their Will. This person, often with the help of an attorney, can initiate a probate case and become the official personal representative. If there is no Will, the probate court may appoint an administrator.
  • Probate Not Always Required: In Washington, probate is not always necessary, even if the decedent had a Will. State law allows real property to pass to heirs and devisees upon the decedent’s death. This means that title companies sometimes use a “Lack of Probate” process, allowing heirs and devisees to transfer the property without probate. However, probate may still be needed in some situations, such as complex estate plans or the absence of heirs or devisees.
  • Avoiding Probate: Assets like retirement accounts, bank accounts, or life insurance policies with transfer-on-death provisions can be administered without going through probate. Consider using a Transfer on Death Deed (TODD) for your home, which can help avoid probate. This deed, established by Washington law in 2014, can be recorded at any time and revoked before your passing. It allows beneficiaries to quickly handle the property without probate.
  • Revocable Trusts: Assets placed in a revocable trust are exempt from the probate process because they have already been transferred to the trust, which specifies beneficiaries. However, there might be tax implications, so it’s essential to consult with your accountant before taking action.
  • Estate Tax Thresholds: As of 2023, estates worth $2.193 million or less are not subject to Washington State taxes. For federal estate taxes, estates worth less than $25.84 million for couples or $12.92 million for singles are exempt.

It’s essential to grasp the ins and outs of probate and estate planning in Washington State, especially when it comes to real estate matters and dividing assets efficiently. While the information from Chicago Title and Escrow is valuable, keep in mind that it’s no substitute for expert guidance from legal professionals. Seeking advice from an attorney can help you adapt your strategy to your specific situation, protect your assets, and make sure things go smoothly when transferring property and planning your estate.

Please consult an attorney to understand how probate and inheritance taxes could affect your specific estate.