How can you get help with administration and probate of an estate?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides comprehensive estate administration and probate services for clients in Washington, D.C. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

How much does the probate process cost?

Probate costs usually are paid from the assets of the estate. Attorney’s fees for assisting with probate depend on the size and complexity of the estate. A probate lawyer may charge a flat rate as a percentage of the estate or an hourly rate.

What if the decedent did not have a will?

If there is no will, the decedent died intestate, with no named personal representative.  In that case, the assets transfer according to the applicable laws for intestate estates.  The court assigns an administrator for the estate.  In many cases, the court appoints a surviving spouse or an adult child as the legal representative.

Can an executor named in a will go ahead and make distributions according to the will?

No. The first step is acceptance and formal appointment as executor by the court.  In many cases, banks and other institutions will not speak to a person who does not have the appropriate appointment documentation to prove they are the valid executor and have authority over the accounts.

Will the decedent’s house go through probate?

If the house is held in joint names with the right of survivorship, the surviving owner(s) of the house will become the owner of the entire property, without the need to go through the probate process.  If the house was held in the decedent’s name alone, probate may be necessary to properly transfer the home.

Will life insurance need to go through probate?

If the life insurance identifies an individual or charity as the beneficiary, the proceeds are distributed without going through the probate process.  However, if a life insurance policy names the decedent's estate as the beneficiary, the life insurance proceeds would become part of the probate estate.

Do IRAs or other retirement accounts go through probate?

No. IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other similar retirement accounts transfer to the individuals identified in the beneficiary designation forms.

Do all of a decedent’s assets go through probate?

No. Only assets that are part of the probate estate are subject to the authority of the probate court.

Does an estate always have to go through probate?

If a decedent dies with assets held solely in their name, and the assets are to be transferred to a beneficiary, it is likely the estate will need to go through probate.  If a decedent had debts, the estate may need to go through probate to limit the time that the debtors may collect on the debts.

Many states allow a more simplified process for modest estates.  For example, in the District of Columbia, if an estate has assets of $40,000 or less (and the decedent died after April 26, 2001), a small estate may be opened to appoint a personal representative, pay debts, and distribute the assets of the decedent.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process by which the courts oversee the transfer of assets from a decedent (person who has died) to their beneficiaries.  It involves:

  • Presenting the decedent's last will and testament to the court, to prove it is valid
  • Appointing a legal representative who will have the authority to carry out the administration of the estate
  • Identifying, securing, and appraising all property of the decedent
  • Paying any debts or taxes which may be due
  • Distributing the remaining assets according to the terms of the will

If there is a will, a person named as executor in the will is likely to be appointed as the legal representative of the estate.