When someone close to you passes away and you are named as the Personal Representative (or Executor) of their Will, you may be uncertain about how quickly to act regarding the decedent’s estate. You will likely need to open a probate with the court to get access to the assets, but several factors can determine the urgency with which you should act:
(1) The Value of the decedent’s estate: If a person dies a Washington State resident and their estate is valued at $2,000,000 or greater, an estate tax return must be filed within 9 months from the date of death. Tax returns are complex and require time to prepare. Opening a probate quickly is a good idea for larger estates to allow time for the preparation of the estate tax returns.
(2) Creditors of the decedent: If a person dies with many creditors, large medical bills, or if you are uncertain about the individual’s debts, opening a probate quickly is a good idea. In Washington State, the probate process allows for unsecured creditor claims to be limited to a four month period if notice is published in a local newspaper. It is a good idea to start the clock ticking on this four month window.
(3) Access to Accounts: Lastly, opening a probate quickly may be necessary to pay ongoing expenses. If the estate is incurring expenses like mortgage payments and condo dues, the financial institutions holding the decedent’s assets may require a probate for you to access the assets to pay expenses.
Generally, a loved one can take the time they need to grieve before starting the probate process. However, to avoid missed filing deadlines, limit late fees and potentially avoid creditors, it is best to consult with your attorney to determine how quickly after death to start the probate process.