This is a question I answer almost daily.
In the state of Washington, if the deceased owned real estate, or they owned probate assets worth more than $100,000.00 at the time of their death, then yes, their estate should be probated.
I often encounter a great deal of reluctance to probate an estate when I am dealing with people who have lived in other states…often with good reason. However, in Washington, probating an estate can actually offer the survivors and beneficiaries greater certainty and finality than not probating, and we can often complete the process in six months or less, unlike in other jurisdictions. Probate is also the only way in many cases to transfer title to real estate owned by the deceased.
If the deceased’s probate estate is worth less than $100,000.00, and they did not own real estate, then it is possible to collect and distribute the deceased’s assets to the heirs and beneficiaries without probating the estate. This is accomplished by preparing an Affidavit of Successor in which the affiant swears (a) that it has been more than 40 days since the decedent passed away, (b) that no one has started any probate proceedings, (c) that the affiant is a “successor” of the decadent as defined by statute, (d) that the estate is worth less than $100,000.00, and does not include real estate, and (e) lists the estate assets and approximate value of each asset.
When dealing with the estate of a deceased spouse who executed a Community Property Survivorship Agreement with the surviving spouse when both were living, probate can also be avoided on the death of the first spouse by recording the Community Property Survivorship Agreement in the records of the county of residence, along with a death certificate. However, depending on the size and the complexity of the estate, there may be reasons to probate the estate anyway.
In any event, I recommend discussing the individual circumstances with an attorney before making a decision on whether to probate or not probate, as one fact will often change the advice given when dealing with similar estates.