Probate Law

This guide briefly discusses issues related to probating an estate and most references are to materials for Washington State.  Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:


After someone dies, their money and property (called the “estate”) must be distributed to their heirs. When supervised by the courts, this process is called “probate.” Probate is not always necessary, but in some situations, probate may be required. Probate may be preferable when you must pay debts, claims, or taxes, or if you anticipate disagreement over dividing the estate.

Websites for General Information

Several websites provide good background information on probate. The first two listed below contain information specifically for Washington State. The others provide more general background.

  • Attorney General of Washington, Consumer Protection Division, Dealing with Death. This guide is divided into two sections: “Preparing for Death” and “Once a Death Occurs.” Probate is discussed within Property in the second section.
  • Nolo Press, Wills and Estate Planning. The legal encyclopedia on this website does not address Washington law, but does include basic information about probate in general, as well as answers to such questions as “Who pays Mom’s debts after she dies?” Written for non-lawyers, Nolo press materials answer legal questions in a straight forward, non-technical fashion.
  • Department of Revenue, Affidavit of Successor. When a person dies without a will, their estate is distributed as ordered by law. The second page of this form includes a very clear chart of the lines of descent and distribution.

Laws on Probate

In Washington, laws concerning probate are found in Title 11 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).

Probate proceedings occur in Superior Court. These proceedings are considered “special proceedings” and are governed by the rules of court. You should look at both the state rules and the local rules of your county.


  • Northwest Justice Project: Do It Yourself Affidavit Procedure for Small Estates. For estates under $100,000 this guide offers step by step instructions and forms about the affidavit procedure.
  • Affidavit of Successor Form. This form, provided by the Washington State Department of Revenue, may be used if the decedent left no will and the estate was not probated. Living heirs have certain rights according to Washington State laws of Descent and Distribution. One heir may claim and distribute to other heirs with their written approval. Please note this affidavit is only to be used for personal property. The transfer of real estate or real property is not allowed. 
  • Probate Forms Library

Helpful Books in the Library

Many very useful probate materials are not available on-line. Please ask at the desk for one of the following:

  • Washington PracticeFW 80 .W3. The Washington Practice series is an invaluable resource for Washington law. Volume 26B of the Washington Practice series, Probate Law and Practice, is completely dedicated to probate forms and procedures.
  • Washington Lawyer’s Practice Manual, KF 300 .W27 1986. The Washington Lawyer’s Practice Manual (WLPM) series is a great resource for practicing attorneys and for non-lawyers who need quick, though in-depth, knowledge of a particular subject. In Volume IV, Chapter X deals with probate. The WLPM series is located at the Reference Desk at both Kent and Seattle.
  • Washington Probate Procedure and Tax Manual, with Forms KF 765 .M83. This three-volume resource is considered to be the authoritative treatise on probate law in Washington. It is written for lawyers and may be daunting for the first-time probate researcher. However, the volumes contain many useful sample forms and letters, and should be consulted if you are looking for suggested language. This set is located in both Seattle and Kent.
  • 2011 King County Probate Policy and Procedure Manual, KF 765 .K56 2011. If you are proceeding in King County, this manual can provide helpful information for procedures specific to King County. It spells out detailed rules and gives frequent citation to applicable statutes. The manual is available at the Reference Desk.
  • Guiding Those Left Behind in Washington, KF 750 .P64 2003.  Published in 2003, this resource covers post-death topics such as giving notice of the death, locating the assets and setting up an estate plan record. 
  • Washington Probate Deskbook, KF 765 .Z99 W37 2005.

If you need more help

The King County Bar Association, Lawyer Referral Service. You may use this service to find an experienced probate attorney. If you live outside of King County, click on “frequently asked questions” to find phone numbers for lawyer referral services in other Washington counties.

Guide to Legal Clinics & Resources in King County

Links Updated: February 2, 2017

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