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Probate Attorney in Kennewick, Washington

When someone passes away, their estate commonly goes through a process known as probate. During this process, the deceased's debts are settled and their assets are distributed according to their will or state law if there's no will.  

However, not all states require an estate to go through probate, so understanding how you should proceed with a deceased's estate can often be a complex and challenging experience, especially during a time of grief. This is where a probate attorney steps in. 

At Gierth-Eddy Law Offices PLLC in Kennewick, Washington, we're heavily experienced in Washington estate planning law. We can help you work through the legal requirements and make sure your loved one's estate is settled and distributed according to their wishes. 

With offices in Kennewick and Yakima, Washington, we proudly serve clients across the state, including the communities of Richland and Pasco. 

What Is Probate?

Probate is a court-supervised process that involves authenticating a deceased person’s will, appraising the estate, paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the rightful beneficiaries.  

This process is initiated in the probate court of the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death. If the deceased did not leave a will, the estate is distributed according to Washington State's intestacy laws, which dictate how assets are divided among surviving relatives. 

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Is Probate Necessary Under Washington Law?

In Washington State, probate is not required following death. However, Washington law does require a deceased's will to be filed with the court in their county of residence immediately following their death. 

The need for probate in Washington is entirely optional, and only a small percentage of deaths lead to a probate filing. Thus, filing for probate is usually a matter of personal choice, not a legal obligation. Although, there are times when an estate may legally need to go through the probate process, such as when: 

  • The deceased has tangible property or real estate that is tied to their name 

  • The total value of their personal property (e.g., savings or investment accounts) exceeds $100,000 

Estates may also go through probate for the following reasons: 

  • To resolve claims against the estate: Probate provides a forum for resolving claims from creditors and disputing any debts that the deceased owed. 

  • To distribute assets that are not otherwise allocated: Probate can help ensure the lawful distribution of assets that do not have a beneficiary designation, are not in a trust, or are not owned in joint tenancy. 

  • To handle complex estates: Larger or more complex estates, especially those with significant assets or complicated legal issues, typically go through probate to ensure proper management and asset distribution. 

In Washington State, the specific circumstances of the deceased’s estate are crucial for determining whether probate is necessary. At Gierth-Eddy Law Offices PLLC, we are skilled in providing experienced guidance about probate to make sure the distribution of the estate complies with state laws and the wishes of the deceased. 

Does All Property Go Through Probate When a Person Dies?

Not all property must go through the probate process when a person dies. If an estate has to go through probate in Washington State, several types of property are exempt, allowing for a smoother transition of assets to beneficiaries. These exemptions include: 

  • Jointly-owned property: Real estate or bank accounts owned in joint tenancy, or with rights of survivorship, automatically pass to the surviving owner without the need for probate. 

  • Payable-on-Death and Transfer-on-Death Accounts: Financial accounts that have a designated beneficiary (e.g., life insurance policies, retirement accounts) are not subject to probate. Upon the account holder's death, the named beneficiary can claim the asset directly from the institution. 

  • Community property with right of survivorship: Similar to joint tenancy, spouses in Washington can co-own property, allowing the property to automatically transfer to the surviving spouse without probate. 

  • Living trusts: Property held in a living trust is controlled by the terms of the trust and can be transferred to beneficiaries without going through probate. 

  • Small estates: Washington law allows for a simplified process for small estates (under $100,00), which does not require formal probate proceedings. 

At Gierth-Eddy Law Offices PLLC, our attorneys can guide you through the process of structuring your estate in a way that aligns with these exemptions, providing peace of mind and financial security for your loved ones. 

Washington Intestacy Laws

Intestacy refers to when a person dies without leaving a will that details how their assets should be distributed. In such cases, Washington State laws dictate the distribution of their estate. These laws, known as intestacy laws, aim to distribute the deceased's assets in a manner that presumably reflects their wishes, typically by allocating assets to the closest surviving relatives. 

In Washington State, intestacy laws prioritize the deceased's immediate family: 

  • If the deceased was married, their estate is generally distributed to their surviving spouse.  

  • If they had children, the estate is divided among the spouse and children, according to specific formulas defined by state law.  

  • For those without a surviving spouse or children, assets may then be distributed to increasingly distant relatives, including parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. 

Regarding intestacy and probate, the process is similar to a will. Washington law does not require an estate to go through probate, regardless of whether the individual died intestate. However, probate could help with settling the estate and distributing assets depending on its size and how likely the estate will be contested by the deceased's beneficiaries. 

Why You Should Consult a Probate Attorney

While probate is not required by law in Washington State, hiring a probate attorney can help you determine whether an estate should or should not undergo the probate process. An experienced probate attorney can help by: 

  • Providing legal advice about the probate court system. 

  • Assisting with inventorying and appraising estate assets. 

  • Managing creditors' claims and making sure debts are settled properly. 

  • Resolving any disputes among beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and creditors. 

  • Making sure estate taxes and other expenses are paid on time. 

  • Facilitating the legal transfer of assets to beneficiaries. 

At Gierth-Eddy Law Offices PLLC, we understand Washington State probate law and are committed to providing our clients with the support and guidance they need to streamline the probate process. We strive to minimize stress for executors and beneficiaries alike, ensuring that their legal obligations are met and the decedent’s wishes are honored.

Probate Attorneys Serving Kennewick, Washington 

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy, but managing their estate after their passing doesn't have to be complex. If you're dealing with a considerable estate following a loved one's death or wondering whether filing for probate is the right choice, our team at Gierth-Eddy Law Offices PLLC can help. Contact us today to learn more about our probate services and to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys.