When people hear the word "probate," they often envision a costly and protracted court process. While this may be true in other states, Washington has a fairly simple and straightforward probate process.
Probate is the court process of validating a deceased person's Will (if one exists), identifying and preparing an inventory of property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property to the deceased person's legal heirs. The person who performs these tasks is called a "personal representative" or "administrator". In nearly every case, the heirs do not disagree as to how assets should be distributed. If there isn't a Will, the law determines who the heirs are. Probate expenses are typically between $2,000 and $2,500 (including costs, such as the filing fee, publication fee, and certified copies).
Many assets pass to a person's heirs outside of the probate process. For example, beneficiaries are often designated on life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Moreover, smaller estates that do not own real property may qualify for an even simpler and less costly legal process for transferring assets to the heirs, called a "Small Estate Affidavit."