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.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that determines what happens to your property after your death. A will states who receives property and in what amounts. Property distributed under the terms of the will become the probate estate. In addition to distributing or transferring property, a will may have other functions such as to name a guardian for any minor children or to create a trust on behalf of children or others.
The purpose of depositing a will with the clerk is to provide a safe place for the will. It is not required by law that a will be deposited with the clerk. The acceptance of a will for safekeeping by the clerk in no way ensures the validity of any provision contained in the will, nor does acceptance in any way enhance the force or effect of the will. The will deposited with the clerk is a sealed document before the testator dies and cannot be released except to the testator upon proper identification. Any person, including an attorney in fact or guardian of the testator, may withdraw the original will so filed only upon court order. Upon request and presentation of a certified copy of the testator's death certificate, the will may become a matter of public record.
What is a Trust?
A trust is an agreement under which money or other assets are held and managed by one person for the benefit of another. Different types of trusts may be created to accomplish specific goals. Each kind may vary in the degree of flexibility and control it offers. The common benefits that trust arrangements offer include: providing personal and financial safeguards for family and other beneficiaries; postponing or avoiding unnecessary taxes; establishing a means of controlling or administering property; and meeting other social or commercial goals.
What is a Guardianship?
The Court appoints guardians for people who lack the capacity to make or communicate decisions because of mental or physical disability. While the goal of a guardianship is to protect, people under guardianship can lose many important rights, including the right to vote, the right to drive, the right to decide where they will live, and the right to decide how their money will be used.
Spokane County's Guardianship Monitoring Program
Spokane County's Superior Court Judges are committed to keeping incapacitated people safe from abuse and exploitation. The Spokane County Superior Court Guardianship Monitoring Program was implemented to monitor guardians' handling of the ongoing care and financial affairs of incapacitated citizens under Spokane County's court-supervised guardianships.
Websites for General Information
Several websites provide good background information:
Washington State Bar Association, for the public, consumer information, pamphlets published by the WSBA as an introductory guide to probate. This short guide discusses a variety of topics from fees and costs to taxes to the role of the Court.
Spokane County Clerk, Will Repository Cover Sheet Example (PDF), showing information required when depositing a will with the Clerk. This cover sheet will be provided in person at the Spokane County Clerk's Office.
Spokane County Clerk, forms used to withdraw a will from the Will Repository maintained by the Clerk of the Court: