Spokane Probate Attorney Makes Difference

You May Have to Fight For Your Inheritance
by Spokane Probate Attorney, Steven Schneider

After a loved one dies, it can be very painful when the heirs can’t agree on how the estate should be distributed. Often, if there is a will, it may simply divide “the estate” by the number of heirs. Depending on how joint bank accounts between the decedent and one or two heirs are held, those funds may not even become part of the estate. Many people don’t know this. Things like family heirlooms, furniture, silver, etc. are most often not addressed at all, except lumped together as ‘residue’ of the estate. As a Spokane probate attorney, I council my clients about these issues others may miss.

Family Fighting Over Inheritance

Does this look like your family during probate? Maybe so, maybe not, but whatever your family’s portrait looks like, Spokane probate attorney, Steven Schneider, can help you!

Dividing an estate can an emotional and hurtful time, not only because families are actively grieving, but also because:

  • Some of the items being distributed may hold intense sentimental value to more than one family member.
  • Some family members may feel they are owed a greater portion of the estate because they were the primary caregiver while others feel that caregiving is an act of love, not a reason to receive more in the estate.
  • The person named executor or personal representative in the will can make all the decisions about how the “estate” is handled prior to the distribution stated in the will, even though others disagree on their method.
  • Some heirs feel they are not given their fair share because they lived far away, didn’t have as much contact with the decedent or they feel another of the heirs was able to disparage them and have undue influence over the terms of the will.
  • One sibling or caretaker has controlled access and communication with parents, often for years, and the other heirs feel excluded.
  • Sometimes, heirs resent the family member named as executor, especially if the executor charges the estate for their time spent on administration, even though it is legal.

If any of this publication is alarming to you, please contact me so that I can share with you my expertise:

  • At the time you or your loved one are writing your wills
  • When, as an executor, you need to open a probate
  • If you are not an executor, but you feel as if there is something not going right in the probate, or feel that the executor is not following the law.

Many times I can prevent future problems or I can help you work through probate without litigation and help to create an understanding and insight between heirs. As a Spokane probate attorney, I feel it is best if families can come through this process in better shape than when they started.

How Estate Planning and Probates Work

  • Without a will, the law of the State in which the person lived determines who receives their property by laws of ‘intestate succession.’ Generally, State laws follow a common sense pattern. In Washington for example, first, one-half goes to the surviving spouse and one-half to children; if there is no spouse, then to the children equally; grandchildren take the parents portion if the parent is deceased.
  • If there is a Will, however, it must be produced and filed in the court and a Personal Representative appointed. It’s usually a spouse or child named in the Will. These are meant as protections for the heirs, but, in most cases, the court does not oversee the actions of the Personal Representative.
  • “Non-intervention” probates are overwhelmingly the most common type of probate, created to avoid court delays and overcrowding. If the estate is solvent, the Personal Representative has complete control of the Estate without court supervision.  The court will only intervene if someone brings a dispute to the court by filing a Petition.

Watch for my next blog, You Do Have Rights as an Heir.




Estate Planing, Wills and Probates: Food for Thought

Estate Planing, Wills and Probates: Food for Thought


By Spokane Attorney, Steven Schneider


Most probates are easy to get through, take a few short months and don’t cost very much. Even though some attorneys describe them as costly and messy, in my experience the opposite is true. With a good will the process can be well-defined and with a good Spokane lawyer the estate can significantly save its resources.

During my 25 years of experience as a lawyer in the Spokane area, I have processed probates that have good, clear wills in place, and conversely, I’ve seen the downside of having no will or a sloppy will. This has helped me to know exactly where the pitfalls are planted. After listening to a client’s needs and desires, and advising them as needed, I will write a will that uniquely addresses their wishes and individual circumstances. Every family has its own special nuances and estate planning, wills and probate must as well.

The NO WILL option:

  • Any child or other relative can petition to be appointed as executor, now known as Personal Representative.
  • During probate, the surviving spouse will receive all the community property estate and one half of the separate property estate. Children or parents will receive the other half.
  • If you have no spouse, your estate will go to your children equally and without restriction if they are over eighteen.  Yes, even your son who sleeps on his friends couch and dreams only of being a rock star will be handed a lump sum with no restrictions.
  • If one child dies before you, that share will go to that child’s children or your parents. Again, if a grandchild is eighteen, that grandchild’s share will go directly to the grandchild. Under the age of eighteen, the share will go to that grandchild’s parents, yes even the ex-spouse who ran off with a biker and is addicted to drugs.


  • You designate who will be in charge of your estate. If you want a specific child to take that position, or even an attorney or family friend, you must have a will that appoints your choice of Personal Representative.
  • If you want to choose the heirs of your estate, you must have a will.
  • The will may contain trusts for disabled or under-age children and grandchildren. The will can distribute property equally, unequally or cut a person out completely.
  • The will can determine when and how the assets are liquidated and distributed, which, in certain circumstances, can be very important.
  • You can give some or all your money to charity.
  • If you have real property in another state, it’s very important to have that brought into your estate plan.
  • You can even have life insurance death benefits paid to your estate to fund your plan.

Many people don’t make wills because they don’t plan on dying soon or they don’t want to think of their own mortality. This has the potential to create discontent and fights within the family when you are gone.  No one wants that result. Estate planning, wills and probate are very important, even if your assets aren’t much, in this case, sometimes it is the thought that counts.

The same applies to other estate planning documents.

  • A Durable Power of Attorney is needed if you will need help with finances and medical decisions during your life, but it must be signed before you need it, before you are determined to be incompetent by your doctor. This could happen without warning, due to a stroke or other sudden ailments.
  • Also, an Advance Directive will tell your wishes about being kept alive artificially or with extraordinary methods. It can be generic or quite explicit or designate a length of time. There are many options.

Consult an experienced estate attorney, when you are contemplating estate planning, wills and probate or are named the Personal Representative in a will.

Future posts will explain separate property, how bank accounts are defined, difficult personalities and more. Visit www.stevenschneiderlaw.com.


Who Pays the Debt of a Deceased Family Member? By Spokane Probate Attorney Steven Schneider

It is the right of your family member to spend their money as the need or wishAre You Going to Inherit the Debt of a Deceased Family Member?
By Spokane Probate Attorney, Steven Schneider

When the loss of a family member looms it is difficult, but essential, to determine what debts are owed and where the records of those debts are kept. If you are named in a Power of Attorney or a Will as the person to handle those debts (Executor or Personal Representative), you have a duty to gather this information. Your family member may have already gathered this information or you may have to hunt through a desk or examine a month’s worth of bills to find credit cards, medical bills and other evidence of debt.

Each state has its own laws regarding the handling of estates whether or not there is a Will. In the state of Washington,

  • Debt taken on during a marriage can be considered community (or shared) property, even if it was strictly in your loved one’s name. But, please visit with me about your individual circumstances. Sometimes this area is grey: Spokane probate lawyer, Steven Schneider (509) 838-4458 or email at SS@StevenSchneiderLaw.com
  • Relatives whose names are not listed on the account cannot be held personally responsible for their family member’s debt; however, a creditor is entitled to collect from the estate left by the deceased.

In order to be paid however, the creditor must file a Creditor’s Claim within four months of the receipt of a Notice to Creditors, which is sent to them through the probate process after the death of the debtor. As a Spokane probate attorney, I can help you with this process.

  •  If the creditor does not file a claim, the creditor need not be paid.
  • If a claim is filed and there is a question about the debt, the Executor or Personal Representative of the estate has a duty to explore the validity of the claim.
  • Conversely, even without a claim, if a debt is secured by property of the estate, like a home loan or car loan, heir(s) do receive that property but must pay the debt. If you are in this situation, call me right away: Steven Schneider, Spokane Probate Attorney, (509) 838-4458) or email at SS@StevenSchneiderLaw.com
  • A credit card issued by a bank or credit union that has also made a car loan, may also be secured by the car.
  • Even furniture, major appliances and tires may be security for the debt.

Most importantly, if there is any doubt about what items are secured by the debt, contact the creditor. If you don’t have copies of the original loan documents already, request them from the creditor. If you are a signer on a joint bank account with the deceased, you may be an owner of the account if it was set up as a joint tenant with right of survivorship account.

    • In that case, the account becomes the joint tenant’s property on death and is never in the estate or subject to the estate’s creditors. Again, get the original account documents from the bank.
    • If there is anyone beside the deceased listed on the account, each account holder may be held legally responsible if there is any outstanding balance.
    • If you are a co-signer (not just an authorized user) the creditor will turn to you if there is outstanding debt.
    • Authorized users may not incur debt after the death of the primary account holder. If they do, they will be held responsible for those debts.

Both the estate and the Personal Representative are not liable for the decedent’s debts if no claim is made and the estate is closed after proper Notice to Creditors (see above). As a Spokane probate attorney, I would be happy to help you sort through these questions and more about the probate process. You can reach me at (509) 838-4458 or SS@StevenSchneiderLaw.com.

Debts that the estate itself incurs after the death, such as attorney fees, court costs and costs of the sale of property are administrative expenses and are paid before debts incurred prior to death.
It is the right of your family member to spend their money as they wish.

Remember, it is the right of loved ones to spend their money as they need or wish, as shown in the photos in this article. Just try to remember if you have ever signed on as a co-signer on any accounts to which any charges may have been applied. And, sadly, death can happen at any age.

Probate vs Living Trust – by Spokane Probate Attorney, Steven Schneider

Last Will & Testament

Probate May Be Less Costly and Easier Than Living Trust

It is common to hear the advice “Avoid Probate” when considering estate planning. In my experience, this usually means that an advertising pitch is being made to try to convince you to buy a Living Trust package instead of a Will. In the State of Washington however, the probate process is generally no more expensive than dealing with the same property through a Living Trust.

An average couple with a Will and Community Property Agreement can simply record the Community Property Agreement on the first death for normally under $100. Upon the death of the surviving spouse or domestic partner, it costs $240.00 to submit the Will to probate and most likely around $1,000.00 for the attorney time involved. There is usually not even a trip to the courthouse for the Executor.

With or without a will, Washington law grants “non-intervention powers” to most Personal Representatives (generic term for Executor) meaning that the court takes no part in the process unless there is a dispute. The Personal Representative also has authority over non-probate assets, including separate property, joint tenancy with survivorship, and property in trusts. Being a Spokane probate attorney is a great opportunity to help my client’s sift through the difficult choices they face when creating a will or trust.

The probate process also cuts off the claims of creditors after four months and limits the liability of the Personal Representative once the probate is closed. A simple Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Community Property Agreement and Advance Directive shouldn’t cost more than $500.00 to $750.00 to prepare for an average person or couple. If any Federal or State tax would be due upon death, or if a complex trust is required, there would be additional costs and time incurred.

Living Trusts cost as much or more than the Will package to prepare. With a Living Trust you also need a Durable Power of Attorney, a Community  Property Agreement and an Advance Directive. There is also a cost in transferring your property by Deed or other document into the trust. On death the same property must be transferred out of the trust. If significant property has been left out of the trust by mistake, you may still have to file a probate to clear title or transfer certain assets.

You should have estate planning that is appropriate for your assets, income, heirs and stage of life. While a Living Trust may be appropriate, a simple probate may also be the most economical choice.

Call me at (509) 838-4458 or by email at ss@StevenSchneiderLaw.com if you have any questions regarding making a will.

A Last Will is used to distribute property to beneficiaries, specify last wishes, and name guardians for minor children. It is an important part of any estate plan. Without one, your estate will pass according to state statutes which might not provide for distribution of your assets as you intend.

A Living Trust is used to transfer property to beneficiaries on death without a court filing.  If any property has been left out of the trust or if there is some dispute over distribution, a court proceeding may still be required.

A Living Will or Advance Directive lets you outline important healthcare decisions in advance, such as whether or not to remain on artificial life support and specify organ donation.

A Durable Power of Attorney gives someone else the power to manage your assets for your benefit , but only as long as you are alive.

A Community Property Agreement is used to transfer property to a surviving spouse without a court proceeding.  The agreement may also state that all property acquired from any source becomes community property.

“Save the House,” by Spokane Probate Attorney Steven Schneider


Why Grandma, What big eyes you have………

                                Run kid, it’s not Grandma, it’s her bank!

Spokane Probate Attorney, Steven Schneider, saves red riding hood's  house from big bad wolf.

Above: This Red Riding Hood forgot to save the house in her grandma’s estate. Pictured below: This Red Riding Hood didn’t

If real estate is passed to an heir in probate, the ownership is effective on the date of death. You can end up like the red riding hood in the picture at the bottom of the page, instead of the red riding hood in the picture at the right. A completed probate is, however, necessary to pass clear title.  The real estate is also subject to any home loan secured by the property.

Since there is a four month period for creditors to submit claims to the estate, usually a lender will be patient even if payments are not made during this period. This does not necessarily mean the heir can assume the loan.  The lender will evaluate the heir as if they were applying for a new loan.  Credit history and the amount of equity in the property will affect the heirs’ ability to keep the property. A house that is worth less than the debt owed on it will have to be sold in a ‘short sale’ to get the lender’s release in exchange for payment of all the net proceeds of the sale.  Unfortunately, in this situation an heir would have to buy the house from the bank. See an attorney who understands estates and real property law before making any decisions regarding such property. Pass this article, “Save the House,” by Spokane Probate Attorney Steven Schneider, to those you feel would find it useful.

Red Riding Hood and her Inheritance

Steven Schneider, Attorney at Law, saves Red Riding Hoods Inheritance