The DC Probate Process

The type of probate process initiated is defined by a number of factors including where the person resided, whether they had a last will and testament, the nature and titling of all the decedent’s assets and the decedent’s heirs.

Typically, when a person keeps their estate plan updated and frequently reviews their last will and testament in the estate planning phase, the probate process may be streamlined, administrative costs may be reduced, and exposure to taxes may be minimized. Additionally, a DC probate lawyer can help you optimize efficiency in your probate case.

Beginning the Probate Process in DC

After a loved one dies, the process of administering his or her estate begins. There are often some immediate concerns including paying for funeral expenses, securing the deceased’s assets and gathering information required to determine what type of probate is required. The District of Columbia has recognized same-sex unions since 2009, but certain things pertaining to adoption, blood lineage, and similar details may require the more experienced hand of a DC probate attorney.

To begin probate in the District of Columbia, generally, a petition for a probate is filed with the DC Superior Court, Probate Division, indicating the name and address of the petitioner, information regarding the death of the decedent, information regarding the last will and testament, if any, an estimate of assets and debts, and names and addresses of interested persons.

The court reviews the petition, and issues an order that either grants or denies the petition. If the petitioner is officially appointed by the court to act as a personal representative, he or she will receive a Letter of Administration. The Letter of Administration acts as his or her official authorization to act on behalf of the estate and the marshalling of the assets begins. In addition, a Notice of Appointment, Notice to Creditors and Notice to Unknown heirs is published in The Daily Washington Law Reporter and one other local newspaper.

Duration of DC Probate Process

Generally, DC estate administration takes about one (1) year to conclude. Estates typically stay open during the required creditor period and the period for objections to appointment of the personal representative to be lodged. In addition, valuing and marshalling all of the assets, assessing and paying the debts and then making distribution can take one (1) year to conclude. In cases where there are complex issues or assets, it may take even longer.

Primary Responsibilities of a Personal Representative

The primary responsibilities of the personal representative in DC includes marshalling all the assets of the estate, paying the administrative expenses, debts, and taxes, and making distribution either pursuant to the terms of the last will and testament or according to the District of Columbia laws of intestacy.

Throughout the marshalling of the assets phase, the personal representative along with his attorney, will value all of the assets as of the date of death. The personal representative works to gather the assets and re-title them into the name of the estate and also pay any legally enforceable debts or administrative expenses. Once all of the assets are collected, taxes, debts and expenses are paid, the personal representative will make distribution pursuant to either the terms of the decedent’s last will and testament, or in accordance with District of Columbia law.

The appointment of the personal representative remains active for three years from date of appointment unless extended. However, it is possible to terminate the appointment sooner by filing a request to the court.

The administration process may not be active for three years. Many estates are active for about one year.

How a DC Probate Lawyer Can Help

An attorney can assist a personal representative throughout the entire process, helping a person simplify and understand what can be a messy and complicated process. A DC probate attorney can assist by preparing the initial pleadings to open the estate. Once appointed, an attorney can advise the personal representative of his or her fiduciary obligations and important deadlines.

An attorney is also helpful in assisting with marshalling and valuing all of the estate assets. An attorney may assist also assist with completing the accounting, completing the estate tax returns also called death tax returns, and overseeing the distribution process.

Choosing to Avoid the Probate Process

DC law requires that all original wills must be filed with the Register of Wills Office. Regardless of whether there are assets that are passing through the probate administration, the law does require that original wills must be filed. Failure to begin the process in a timely fashion may result in missed tax filing deadlines or inability later on to access or transfer assets. Sometimes in particular with real estate, there have been several owners and their heirs who passed away requiring several estates to be opened before the real estate can be transferred to create proper title.