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Important Probate Terms to Understand 

Terry Law Firm, P.S. Feb. 3, 2023

Probate stamp on a big folder of paperworkWhen someone close to you dies and you’ve been named the executor or administrator of their will, you may have to go through the legal process of probate. However, many people aren’t familiar with the basics of probate and need to learn some important terms before they get started. Additionally, many executors find it helpful to work with a probate attorney during this difficult and emotional time. 

If you have more questions about your role in this process or what you can expect, reach out to Terry Law Firm, P.S. in Sumner, Washington. From his office, Attorney Scott Terry is happy to represent clients in Puyallup, Kent, Bonney Lake, Auburn, Lake Tapps, Orting, as well as King, Pierce, and Thurston counties. 

Probate in Washington   

In general, going through probate in Washington is a much simpler process than it is in some other states. In a number of cases, you may be able to bypass it altogether. However, if you’re the executor of a will, you’ll still be required to file it with the court within 40 days after the date of death. 

Probate Terms to Know  

  1. Administrator: The administrator is the same role as the executor, with the only difference being an executor has been named in the will by the testator (the person who wrote the will), and an administrator is someone who’s been assigned to this role by a judge. The courts will do this if there was no will in place or if the will did not name an executor. The administrator/executor is responsible for ensuring the directions in the will are followed, that assets are distributed to the named beneficiaries, that any unpaid taxes or debts are addressed, and that any state or local regulations are followed with the court.  

  1. Beneficiary: A beneficiary is anyone who’s been named in a will to receive a specific asset. This can be for material assets like a home, car, jewelry, or family heirloom, or for non-material assets like money, investments, or pensions. 

  1. Creditor Claim: A creditor is anyone who is owed money by the decedent. After the individual dies, their creditors must be notified of the death and given enough time to submit a claim requesting the outstanding debt be paid from the estate. 

  1. Executor: An individual who’s been named in a will to act as the personal representative of the deceased and execute the will.  

  1. Fiduciary Duty: The executor or administrator of the estate has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the deceased when handling financial matters. This includes addressing past due debts, paying for any services needed to settle the estate, and distributing all assets to the beneficiaries.   

  1. Guardianship: In estate law, a guardian is typically an individual who’s been named to be the legal caretaker of a minor child (or in some cases a pet). Depending on the details of the will, this person may be responsible for the child’s personal needs, financial needs, or both. 

  1. Intestate Succession: When someone dies without a will in place it’s referred to as dying “intestate.” This means the deceased has left no direction for what assets should be handed down to whom. Instead, the court will follow the rules of intestate succession which outlines how assets should be distributed to heirs. 

  1. Probate Account: Many administrators choose to open a bank account specifically for probate. This account can be used to hold money from the estate and to pay any court and attorney fees as well as debts.  

  1. Testate: Testate simply means that the deceased has left behind a valid will, as opposed to “intestate.”  

Speak With an Experienced Attorney  

If you’re in the Sumner, Washington area and would like to know more about your responsibilities as the executor or administrator of an estate, reach out to Terry Law Firm, P.S. A probate attorney is ready to help you and your family move forward.