Probate court judges in Washington may perform a variety of duties for individual estates. However, the primary function of a probate court judge is to oversee the distribution of a person’s assets after they die. The judge’s degree of involvement in this process will depend on the estate plan or lack of estate plan that a person left behind.
When a person dies testate, it means that they considered estate planning and probate while they were alive. A testate case is one where there is at least a last will and testament. In these cases, the probate court judge’s job is to ensure that the will is legal and the instructions in the will are followed correctly.
Before a probate court judge can oversee a testate case, the estate executor must notify the probate court about the will. The first decision the judge makes is whether or not the will is contested. If the will is not contested by any of the beneficiaries, the case proceeds to the next steps:
• Interested parties are notified.
• Assets in the estate are inventoried.
• Assets are distributed.
• The estate is terminated.
All of these steps are overseen and signed off by the probate court judge before the case is closed. The probate case will remain a matter of public record.
When someone dies intestate, it means that they died without a will. These cases require much more involvement from the probate court judge. A judge in an intestate case will have to appoint an estate administrator and make sure that assets are distributed based on intestacy laws.
When a beneficiary or other interested party contests a will, the probate process can get even more complicated. In these cases, the probate court judge must listen to arguments and review evidence before making decisions about the estate. Often, plaintiffs in will contests have legal representation.
The role of an estate law judge may vary depending on the case. However, the goal is always to ensure that any assets left by the deceased are distributed according to their wishes or state law.