top of page

Probate Matters

When someone dies survivors are left to close out their affairs.  Usually, it involves a process known as probate. Probate is the court supervision of a deceased person’s estate.  It can be a complicated legal process that always involves the court but usually lawyers, judges, and complex.  The process can take from several months to several years to fully resolve.

If you have been appointed as the personal representative  to an estate, your role will be time consuming and sometimes confusing.  If your loved one lived, died, or held assets in District of Columbia, you will likely have to go through probate in the District of Columbia and will most likely need an experienced attorney who is licensed to practice law in District of Columbia to complete the probate process.

Probate Estate Administration

Probate is the court supervision of a deceased person’s assets.  It involves the legal transfer money or property from the name of a person who has died to the heirs and legatees.  If a person owned real estate, banks accounts or other assets during their lifetime, after they die, everything they owned, including any debts, is referred to as their estate.

Is Probate necessary?

Yes! You will more than likely have to go through the probate process if:

  1. A bank, title company, lawyer, investment institution or insurance company, says you need:

    1. Letters of Administration

    2. Letters of Appointment

    3. Letters of Executor

    4. Appointment as Personal Representative, or

    • You want to transfer the decedent’s real estate into your name or want to sell it or rent.

    • You want to make sure all creditors have been paid

    • Family members disagree about who should get what from the person’s estate or who should be in charge of actually administering the estate.


Having a Will does not avoid probate but only determines who gets what.  If there was no Will (intestate), the laws of the District of Columbia determines who gets what and probate is still required. 

When is Probate Unnecessary?

If the person who died only owned motor vehicles such as cars, motorcycles or boats, then probate may not be necessary.  Check with the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Superior Court Office of the Register Wills. Also, if the assets are titled in the name of a Trust or the real estate has certain language on the deed, then a probate may not be necessary.

Types of Probate Processes

In the District of Columbia, there are primarily three types of probate: Large Estate Administration; Small Estate Administration; and Ancillary (Foreign) Estate Administration.  Residents and non-residents can serve as a personal representative in an estate.

Large Estate Administration

A large estate administration involves estates that have over $40,000 in personal property or real property, regardless of the value.  The court appoints a Personal Representative to administer the estate. The court will also issue Letters of Administration.  The personal representative must pay debts, and make distribution of estate assets to those person(s) who inherit them either through a will admitted to probate or through the laws of intestate succession.

Small Estate Administration

This type of probate could be used if the total value of the estate’s assets is less than $40,000.00.  Opening a small estate proceeding allows the court to appoint a personal estate representative to settle claims and make a distribution of assets.

Ancillary (Foreign) Administration

An ancillary administration applies if the person who passed away owned property in the District of Columbia but was not a resident of the District of Columbia. For people who died after December 31, 1980, domiciled outside the District of Columbia but owning assets in the District of Columbia at the time of death, the person appointed personal representative in the other jurisdiction must file the documents required to open a foreign estate proceeding in the District of Columbia before that person will have authority to collect and distribute any of the assets located in the District of Columbia. Because the primary estate is not being opened in the District of Columbia, the estate is called a foreign estate proceeding (FEP), no personal representative is appointed in DC, and no letters of administration are issued.

bottom of page