Many people want to know just what probate means and what is involved in the probate process. Probate is nothing more than a court-supervised process through which the property of a decedent is distributed to the decedent’s heirs at law (if the decedent died intestate without a Will) or to designated beneficiaries (if the decedent died Testate with a Will). Usually, the document evidencing the intent of a deceased person is decedent’s Will. The Will appoints a trusted person(s) to act as the personal representative to pay the legitimate debts and distribute the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries in the Will in the shortest time possible. It often takes several months to determine what debts are legitimate or not. It often requires liquidation of large assets such as real estate in order to effect the Wills direction for distribution to the beneficiaries. This explains the primary cause for delay in distribution of estates. The probate process also provides for a creditor claim procedure of four months as opposed to a two year statute of limitations for creditors to make claims if the publication to creditor’s procedure is not taken advantage of.
Over a decade ago, a wave of Living Trust salesmen came through the State of Washington campaigning for an out of court process of what was advertised as a substitute for probate. Revocable Living Trusts have their place in certain circumstances that can be explained to you. However, for most people, a Living Trust is an overkill of complexity and costs that too often does not prevent probate due to lack of maintaining all assets in the trust. My philosophy is that “simple is best.”
In an effort to take the mystery out of the probate process, I have attached a flat fee probate fee agreement that I have been using for a number of years. However, please note that there are often circumstances that require legal aid outside of the probate process such as assistance in selling real estate, clearing up questionable creditors, resolving lawsuits or other problems that decedent had prior to his/her death and of course, there is the need for tax preparation. My flat fee agreement discusses other potential causes of extra legal work incidental to the probate process. In summary, the probate process is not to be feared and is relatively easy for the personal representative to distribute assets in a timely fashion.
In conclusion, I would like you to understand that this short article cannot take the place of a conference with an attorney who can give you advice based upon your situation and needs. For every general rule presented in this article there could be many exceptions. The purpose of this article is to give you a brief over view of this area of law and to help you gather the information and to ask questions of your attorney.
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