The Initial Hearing
Documents and Pleadings
Assuming this is a routine probate, you’ll need to come to the courthouse with the following documents:
Case Designation Sheet (one original and one copy)
Petition (one signed original and two copies)
Will and Codicil, if any (the original and one copy)
Death Certificate with Coversheet (two copies)
Order (one signed by you and one copy)
Oath (one notarized original and one copy)
To begin a probate in King County, you’ll need to file and present the appropriate paperwork and pay the appropriate fee at the King County Superior Court in Seattle or Kent. Each of the documents listed to the right can be found and are more fully described on the Documents page. The steps below assume you have a routine probate where you have an original will that is self-proving, no incapacitated or minor beneficiaries or heirs, a solvent estate, and you are the person nominated in the will to serve as personal representative (or executor). If any of these things is not true in your case, you need to visit the appropriate page under the Tricky Issues tab above.
Are you qualified to serve?
Under RCW 11.36.010, several classes of individuals are not qualified to serve as administrators or personal representatives of a Washington estate. Those include minors, people of unsound mind, people who have been convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, and people who do not reside in Washington. If you do not reside in Washington, you can become qualified by appointing a resident agent who resides in the county where the probate is being administered (if the resident agent is the attorney of record in the probate, it doesn’t matter which county the attorney resides in). A sample pleading called Designation of Resident Agent is available on the Documents page. If you are not a resident of Washington, the court will not appoint you as administrator or personal representative without this pleading first being signed by you and the person accepting the appointment. You must bring this fully executed document to the initial hearing. Don’t forget to have the person you are appointing sign the document accepting your appointment.
Where can you file the probate?
In Washington, you can start a probate in the superior court of any county. It doesn't matter where a person died or was residing at the time of death. If they resided in Washington, you can file the probate in any county in Washington. When deciding where to file, however, you should ask yourself if there might be any dispute over occupancy of real property (i.e., a house). If you anticipate needing an order from the probate court removing someone from a house, that may be easier if the probate court and the house are in the same county.
If you've decided to file your probate in King County, you are required to designate the correct courthouse (Seattle or Kent) on the Case Designation Sheet depending on where in the County the deceased person resided or had property. But if he or she died outside of King County and had no property in King County, you can choose either the Seattle or Kent designation area.
What times are probate matters heard?
If you are starting a routine probate in King County where no notice is required of the initial hearing (i.e., situations where you have an original will that is self-proving and you are the person named in the will to serve as personal representative), you can come to the probate court at any time during the Ex Parte Courtroom's hours of operation (M-F, 9:00-12:00 and 1:30-4:15) and have a judge or commissioner review your request. If you have a nonroutine matter where you must give notices to heirs and beneficiaries of the initial hearing, you must schedule those hearings on the Ex Parte Court's 10:30 calendar.
To begin, you will need to go to the Clerk’s Office to file your case. In the King County Courthouse in Seattle, the Clerk’s Office is in Room E-609. At the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, the Clerk’s Office is on the second floor in Room 2C.
At the Clerk’s Office, hand the clerk the following:
The original signed Case Designation Coversheet
The original signed Petition
$240 (check, cash or credit card)
The clerk will file the documents after stamping them with the case number on the front of the two documents. Once the clerk is done stamping, you need to take the case number stamp and stamp the number on all of the documents you have, including stamping the case number on the top of the original will and the copy of the will. On all of the documents except the will, you will see a spot on the top of the first page where there is a blank space after “No.” That’s where the case number is supposed to be stamped. (If you realize later you forgot to stamp the case number on the documents, you can write it in with a pen.)
In addition, you need to use the file date stamp and stamp the top of the copies of the Case Designation Sheet and the two copies of the Petition. This will show when you filed them for your records.
You should walk into the courtroom and find the clerk. In Kent, the clerk sits on the right as you walk into the courtroom. In Seattle, the clerk sits to the left of the Commissioner.
Even if court is in session, you should walk up to the clerk and hand him or her the following documents and sit down:
Order (which you have already signed as the person presenting it)
Petition (one of the copies you still have)
Original will (and codicil, if applicable)
Death certificate with coversheet
When the Commissioner calls your case, you should walk up to the bench and introduce yourself and describe why you are there, for instance: “Good morning your honor. I am Jane Doe. I am the daughter of John Doe and am the person he nominated in his will to serve as Personal Representative. The will is self-proving. The estate is solvent. There are no minor beneficiaries.” This assumes that all of that is true. If it isn’t, you should tell the Commissioner where it isn’t true and explain how you intend to deal with it – see the various links above on dealing with tricky issues.
If everything is in order, the Commissioner should sign the Order and hand you back the Order and the copies of the Petition and Death Certificate.
“Conforming” the Order: Remember the extra copy of the Order you have? You need to find it and stamp the top with the date stamp that will be available in the courtroom. Then you need to stamp the Commissioner’s name on the copy where he or she signed the original (or you can write the name if you remember the name of the Commissioner). These stamps are near the door at the Ex Parte Courtroom in Kent and in the foyer outside the two Ex Parte Courtrooms in Seattle. DON’T stamp the original that the commissioner just signed. You are only stamping your copy to show what date it was signed and which commissioner signed it. You should also not leave the courthouse with the original signed Order. That is a crime. You need to take the original signed Order to the Clerk's Office (see "Final Step" below).
Having successfully obtained your Order signed by the Commissioner, you need to return to the Clerk’s Office and hand the clerk the following: (1) the Original Order just signed by the Commissioner, (2) the original will (and codicil, if applicable), (3) the original Oath, (4) $10 for two Letters Testamentary, and (5) the death certificate with coversheet that you showed the Commissioner. The clerk should know what you want, but you can say: “I need to file these and purchase two Letters Testamentary.”
As you wait for the clerk to prepare the Letters Testamentary, use the clerk’s date stamp to stamp the top of the following documents for your records as proof that you just filed them with the Clerk: (1) your copy of the will, (2) your copy of the Oath, and (3) your copy of the coversheet for the death certificate.
When the clerk hands you the Letters Testamentary, be sure to check the spelling of your name and the decedent’s name.
You are done. Congratulations! You have opened a probate. But don't stop now! You've got a lot more to do, starting with providing the appropriate Notices to the parties entitled to notice of your appointment.
Ex Parte via the Clerk
As an alternative to appearing in front of the Commissioner in the courtroom, you can proceed “Ex Parte via the Clerk.” Under this process, you give everything to the clerk at Step One, above, and the clerk walks it to the courtroom during one of a few runs they make every day to the courtroom. If everything is in order, the clerk will call you (normally the next day) and let you know everything has been signed and is ready for you to pick up. This will cost you $30. For an additional $30, you can pay for the clerk to walk to the courtroom sooner and get the signed order to you within about an hour. You should not use Ex Parte Via the Clerk for probates with complicated issues. This process is best used for routine probates (i.e., when you have an original will, no minors or incapacitated heirs or beneficiaries, you are the person named in the will as PR, and the estate is solvent). The clerk will expect you to have completed the Ex Parte via the Clerk Coversheet if you proceed this route. For more details, visit the Clerk's webpage on Ex Parte Via the Clerk.