Probate necessary?

I am executor for older brother’s estate. He has named beneficiaries for all his investment and bank accounts and filed a Transfer on Death arrangement for his real estate. Beyond that, he just has personal belongings with minimal value. There’s really nothing else to put in a will. When he passes, can I just get letters of Testamentary to pay his bills and close accounts or will I have to do probate? He lives in King County Seattle.

If he can afford it, a trust (cost $1K to $3K) will ensure that his exact wishes are carried out and your workload will be reduced. A simple list of personal effects with who he wishes to receive them might work for smaller personal items with sentimental value.

You can’t get letters testamentary without probate. It’s a court document that authorizes you to act as his personal representative to settle his estate.

It’s nice that he’s thought ahead to name beneficiaries. He might think that’s all he has to do, but there are lots of what ifs that should be covered by a will. For example, what if he buys a car and dies 3 months later? You need court authorization to sell it (unless the DMV in Washington state allows transfer-on-death and he sets that up, some states do).

If he doesn’t have a will, and dies without making one, you can still go to the court and get what’s called letters of administration. This would name you administrator of his estate, not executor. It’s just a distinction between someone dying without a will vs dying with a valid will. Letters of administration would give you the same authority to sell his car, sell his stuff, do things like receive, deposit, and distribute to heirs a rent deposit refund.

I’m not a lawyer, but I have been administrator for my brother’s estate (died without a will), executor for my mom’s estate (died with a will), and trustee for my dad who did a revocable living trust, all three in different states while I was in another.

My opinion on trusts is that more people get them than need them. Whether you are trustee, administrator, or executor, you still have to file paperwork in order to distribute assets. A trust might be worth the money up front, or might not.

You could suggest to your brother that he find out what the state laws say would happen to his assets if he died without a will. Or consult a lawyer.

Thank you. This was very helpful.

The terms executor, administrator or personal representative vary by state, not necessarily whether there was a will or not.

My Trust Attorney set up the “Lavarock Family Trust” which is a revokeable trust. My leasehold farm is in it and the Lease says the Trust owns it. I am listed as the manager of the trust and my Sisters are listed in the trust as people to manage the trust if I die. This was to ensure that if I died, my Sisters don’t need to renegotiate the lease. Since on my death, there is no transfer of property to the girls, there is no tax or payments or anything because the trust still owns the farm, they just manage it. Also, it is not listed as an asset or liability of theirs (for other reasons).

My will is a ‘pourover will’. The pour-over will exists to move assets into the trust and works in conjunction with either a revocable living trust or an irrevocable trust. So if I was buy a truck and not specifically put it in the trust and then die, the truck automatically goes in there. As I understand it, the state has no right to look inside my trust.

I had my trust, will and a medical directive set up for about $2,000.

Your brother doesn’t need a will or a trust. But if he does make a will, there is no legal requirement that it has to go through the probate process, despite what lawyers will tell you. You as executor can carry out his wishes in his will. It sounds like the only items might be vehicles (if any) that he owns. Make an arrangement with him to dispose of his vehicles, and you are all set.

Can’t speak for any other place, but that is not accurate in Cal.

We’ve been over this before. The level of assets that OP is mentioning should qualify for California’s small estate rules. But it doesn’t matter, because OP’s brother is in Washington.

This is absolutely not universally true. In at least some states, probate is required. Part of probate is ensuring that debts owed by the decedent are paid from estate assets before distribution to beneficiaries. For small estates, there may be an abbreviated probate.

I don’t know about Washington but in some states if the estate is less than 15K you don’t have to go through probate.

Washington law does not require probate. It does require that any will be filed with the Court within 40 days of death.

Yes, the probate laws differ between states. Where lawyers have voted themselves extra work, then of course it is required. I have been lucky to live in 4 states where probate is not a requirement for a will. Yes, I am sure in California, the average citizen is not allowed to even think any original thoughts, without paying someone for the privilege!

My mother, with only an 8th grade education, carried out the provisions of my grandfather’s very complicated will. My wife did the same for her mother’s will in another state. Lawyers and the probate process are not necessary, but sometimes legally required if you live in the wrong state.

Texas here. My attorney is re-doing our Wills, she’s going to prepare a document which will transfer the house to the surviving spouse upon death, and the DMV has a similar public form for our cars. House & car taken care of, all financial accounts go over by beneficiary designation… nothing left to probate!