Closing the Probate
How to Close a Probate
Once you have liquidated all of the decedent's property or otherwise gotten all assets out of the decedent's name, taken care of all creditors, and handled all tax issues, you can usually close the probate. The most common and easiest method by far for doing this is through the use of a Declaration of Completion. An alternative to this process is filing a Petition for a Decree of Distribution, which requires a court hearing. The final option is filing a Final Report and Petition for Distribution, which also requires a court hearing. If the court has not granted you nonintervention powers, you cannot use a Declaration of Completion or a Petition for a Decree of Distribution to close the probate. Instead, you must file a Final Report and Petition for Distribution and have a hearing where the court reviews your Report and Petition. Each of these methods is described below.
How Long Can a Probate Remain Open
Under RCW 11.48.010, you are required to administer the estate as “rapidly and quickly as possible.” How long that takes depends on the specific circumstances of each case. However, the King County Clerk expects most probates to be concluded within a year, and if yours isn’t, the Clerk wants you to file a Statement of Case Status (PDF) (Word) explaining why it isn’t closed. You should then mail that Statement to all of the parties.
Declaration of Completion
If a personal representative or administrator was giving nonintervention powers, closing a probate can normally be accomplished without returning to court, through the use of a Declaration of Completion of Probate (PDF) (Word). RCW 11.68.110-114. The Declaration contains information listed in RCW 11.68.110 that concerns the decedent and the probate of the estate. It also describes the amount of fees that were paid to the personal representative and any accountant, attorney and appraiser. The personal representative must (1) file the Declaration with the court and then (2) within five days mail the Declaration of Completion to all the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate who have not waived their right to receive notice of the filing of the Declaration of Completion. RCW 11.68.110(3). Note that the Declaration must be sent even to those persons who would have taken a share of the estate under RCW 11.04.015 had there been no will (i.e., those "heirs" who were disinherited).
If there was no will, the Declaration of Completion is slightly different. In those cases, it must contain the contact information for each heir and their distributive shares. RCW 11.68.110(1)(f). A Declaration containing this information can be found here (PDF) (Word).
When mailing the Declaration of Completion to the heirs and beneficiaries, the personal representative must also send a special pleading called a Notice of Filing (PDF) (Word). The Notice must substantially follow the language contained in RCW 11.68.110(3), which describes the rights of the heirs and beneficiaries to object within 30 days of the filing of the Declaration of Completion. If anyone objects, the personal representative must note a hearing at the Ex Parte department in the Superior Court so the court can hear the objections. Under RCW 11.68.110, the heir is entitled to object to the reasonableness of the fees described in the Declaration of Completion and can request an accounting.
Making Final Distributions
When using the Declaration of Completion of Probate process, making final distributions to the beneficiaries can be accomplished in one of two ways. The first and easiest way is by giving all beneficiaries their final distributions and having them sign a Receipt (PDF) (Word). If all of them sign a properly drafted Receipt, in which they acknowledge receiving their full inheritance and waiving their right to notice of the filing of the Declaration of Completion, then the personal representative need not send the beneficiaries the Declaration of Completion or the Notice of Filing of the Declaration of Completion. Instead, the personal representative need only file the Receipts and the Declaration of Completion with the court and the probate will be closed.
The second way of making distributions is by mailing the Declaration of Completion and the Notice of Filing of the Declaration of Completion to all of the beneficiaries who have not signed a Receipt. The personal representative should include language in the Declaration of Completion that he or she intends “to make final distribution from Decedent's estate to Decedent's beneficiaries within five (5) business days after the final date on which a beneficiary could file a Petition with this Court requesting it to approve fees or to require an estate accounting.” In addition, the Notice of Filing of the Declaration of Completion should contain the amount that each beneficiary will receive as a final distribution. See RCW 11.68.112. If no beneficiary requests an accounting within the 30-day period after filing of the Declaration of Completion, then the probate will be closed, the personal representative will be discharged, and the personal representative will have no further power as personal representative, except to pay out the final distributions described in the Notice within 5 days.
Under either method, if the court required the personal representative to post a bond at the time of appointment, that bond is automatically discharged and exonerated after the Declaration of Completion becomes effective. RCW 11.68.110(4) & 11.68.114(2).
Closing but Holding Back Funds for Taxes
If a personal representative wishes to close the probate, but maintain the power to deal with taxing authorities, he or she can file a Declaration of Completion containing special language that retains these powers. You can find a sample Declaration of Completion containing such language on the Documents page. The Declaration of Completion should also state how much and whether the personal representative intends to hold back any funds to pay any taxes, interest or penalties and the costs and expenses related to determining those payments. The personal representative cannot hold back more than $3,000. RCW 11.68.114.
In addition to the special language in the Declaration of Completion, a special type of Notice of Filing of Declaration of Completion must also be used, which can be found on the Documents page. The personal representative will use the normal process described above for the filing and mailing of the Declaration of Completion and the Notice of Filing of the Declaration of Completion, but will hold back up to $3,000 as a reserve.
Once all tax matters are concluded, the personal representative must file with the court and mail to each beneficiary who is entitled to a share of the reserve (or would have been entitled to a share had it not been used up) a copy of the checks or receipts showing how the reserve was used and distributed. Those beneficiaries then have 30 days to request an accounting of the reserve or a review of the reasonableness of the any payments or distributions made from the reserve. If no such requests are made, then the personal representative is discharged from liability from any distributions made. RCW 11.68.114.
Petition for a Decree of Distribution
In cases where a personal representative has obtained nonintervention powers, he or she may opt not to use the Declaration of Completion process, and instead use a more complex process, which is to file a Petition for a Decree of Distribution. Unlike the process for filing a Declaration of Completion, if the personal representative files a Petition for a Decree of Distribution, a properly noted hearing in the Ex Parte courtroom is required.
The law allows the court to enter one of two types of decrees when a Petition for a Decree of Distribution is filed. Compare RCW 11.68.100(1)(a) & (b). The first type of decree does not require an accounting by the personal representative, while the second one does. Under the first decree, the court finds that the “claims of the decedent have been paid, finds and adjudges the heirs of the decedent or those persons entitled to take under his or her will, and distributes the property of the decedent to the persons entitled thereto.” RCW 11.68.100(1)(a).
The second type of decree approves “the accounting of the personal representative and settles the estate of the decedent in the manner provided for in the administration of those estates in which the personal representative has not acquired nonintervention powers.” RCW 11.68.100(1)(b). Under the second type of decree, the Petition should look similar to that of a Final Report under RCW 11.76.030.
The notice requirements for either petition are the same as the process for giving notice of a Final Report when a PR has not received nonintervention powers, i.e., publishing notice of the hearing and mailing the petition to each heir, legatee, devisee and distributee at least 20 days before the hearing in Ex Parte. See RCW 11.68.100(2) & 11.76.040. Before the hearing, you should file proof of mailing and publication and have such proof available for review at the hearing.
Final Report and Petition for Distribution
In cases where the personal representative or administrator has not received nonintervention powers, he or she must prepare a Final Report and Petition for Distribution to be heard in the Ex Parte courtroom after proper notice is provided. RCW 11.76.030 & .040. The law requires the Report to contain at least the following information: (1) the money collected since any prior report to the court; (2) property that has come into the hands of the administrator or PR since any prior report; (3) any debts paid; and (4) the general condition of the estate. RCW 11.76.030. The King County Court, however, also prefers that the Report contain the following: (1) a discussion of the jurisdictional issues, such as the date of death and residency of the decedent; (2) a description of the commencement of the probate; (3) a statement of the notices that have been provided; (4) an inventory and appraisement of the estate that was required by RCW 11.44.015; (5) a statement regarding the payment of taxes; (6) a statement of the claims that were filed, allowed and disallowed; (7) a detailed accounting and accounting summary; and (8) the fees paid to the PR/administrator, attorneys, accountants, and appraisers.
Aside from reviewing the Report, the court will look carefully to ensure that proper notice has been provided. Unlike the normal 14-day hearing schedule for Ex Parte, RCW 11.76.040 requires notices to be at least 20 days before the hearing. Specifically, the statute requires (1) the Report to be mailed to each heir, legatee, devisee and distributee at least 20 days prior to the hearing and (2) a notice be published at least 20 days prior to the hearing in a legal publication in the county where the Report is being heard.
According to RCW 11.76.040, the publication notice must contain the following information: "It shall state in substance that a final report and petition for distribution have, or either thereof has, been filed with the clerk of the court and that the court is asked to settle such report, distribute the property to the heirs or persons entitled thereto, and discharge the personal representative, and it shall give the time and place fixed for the hearing of such final report and petition and shall be signed by the personal representative or the clerk of the court."
You should ensure that proof of mailing and publication are filed with the court by the time of the hearing, and you have that proof available for review by the Ex Parte Commissioner at the hearing.
Heirs are entitled to object to the entry of the Decree. At the hearing on the Final Report, the court may take testimony from witnesses to determine whether the estate is ready to be closed, whether the PR’s administration should be approved, and who are the legatees and heirs entitled to a distribution. If the court is satisfied, it may enter a final Decree of Distribution, approving the Report, discharging the PR and approving the distribution of the estate. RCW 11.76.050.