Being an attorney, it is surprising to me when someone asks what a probate matter is. However, taking a step back and thinking about it, it makes sense that most people do not know what it is. Most would not have to deal with the probate process until later on in their life; and even then, it usually occurs during a stressful time that they might not remember the legal term for what is happening.
To give a brief overview, probate is the legal process in which a Court oversees the disbursement and resolution of a deceased person's financial and personal affairs. Simply put, when someone dies, their estate needs to be accounted for and disbursed to the appropriate people; probate is the legal process through which the Court is made aware that someone has died, and oversees the finalization of the estate to make sure it is handled appropriately.
In order to oversee this administration, a person designated by a will and/or a person familiar with the decedent who volunteers can file a petition with the Court requesting that they be appointed as the personal representative of the estate. If the person is appointed as the personal representative, they have the difficult duty of gathering all of the decedents assets, paying off all known creditors, and disbursing the estate to the necessary heirs/beneficiaries.
The probate process is a long and detailed process that truly requires the attention of an attorney. However, Washington law (and most other state laws) states that the estate of the deceased pays for the legal services provided by any attorney assisting with the probate process (so long as the estate is solvent). As such, if you are planning to act as personal representative for someone that passed away, it is highly suggested that you hire an attorney because a) probate is a complicated legal process, and b) assuming the estate is solvent, it will pay for the attorney's fees (not you).
If someone you know passed away and you wish to act as the personal representative, be sure to contact an attorney immediately. Nowakowski Legal PLLC is experienced in the probate process and would be more than happy to provide a free consultation should you contact our office.