General InformationFor people who die owning real property located in the District of Columbia and/or other assets of any value (such as bank accounts, stocks, and personal belongings), a decedent's estate (also known as a large estate) may be opened to appoint a personal representative, pay debts, and make distribution of estate assets to those person(s) who inherit them (either through a will or through the laws of intestate succession).
- The person who died is the "decedent." If the decedent died with a will, the person who is named in the will to handle the decedent's estate is called the personal representative. The personal representative (or whoever has possession of the will) must file the will with the Court. If the decedent had assets, the nominated personal representative should file a petition for probate of the will and for appointment as the personal representative. If the decedent had assets but died without a will, his or her estate will still have to be probated by a court-appointed personal representative, and the decedent’s next-of-kin has priority to file a petition for probate and serve as personal representative.
- Much more detail regarding the process of administering an estate in the District of Columbia, including definitions of terms and a case diary of important deadlines, is included in "After Death - A Guide to Probate in the District of Columbia." Please read it carefully.
- Although the law does not require a person to have a lawyer to probate an estate, the process is complicated, and an experienced probate lawyer is helpful, particularly since Probate Division staff cannot provide legal advice.
Items Needed to Open a Large Estate CaseThe forms necessary to open a large estate differ depending upon the date of death of the decedent. Two sets of forms are available: those for deaths on and after July 1, 1995, to the present and those for deaths on and after January 1, 1981, through June 30, 1995. If the date of death is before January 1, 1981, there are no pre-printed forms available. Please consult an experienced probate attorney to prepare the proper paperwork and carefully review Superior Court, Probate Division Rule 10.
- Included in each set of forms (organized by date of death) are (1) forms to open an abbreviated probate estate, (2) forms to open a standard probate estate, (3) other general forms, and (4) inventory and accounting forms.
Filing the PetitionWhen the petition for probate is filed, it is reviewed by the Probate Division’s Legal Branch to ensure that all of the necessary documents have been submitted and that the filings comply with minimum legal requirements. After the petition is accepted for filing, the petition and any attachments, including a draft order, are transmitted to a judge. An order signed by a judge is needed to admit the will to probate, appoint the personal representative, determine whether the administration of the estate is to be supervised or unsupervised, approve or waive bond, and order payment of the allowances provided for by law. A copy of the signed order will be mailed to the personal representative and his or her attorney with letters of administration and a Schedule of Mandatory Filings.
- The Probate Division will send the document called Notice of Appointment, Notice to Creditors and Notice to Unknown Heirs to the two newspapers chosen by the personal representative for publication. The notice must be published once a week for three consecutive weeks concurrently in both of the publications. This publication serves as notice of the personal representative's appointment and establishes the deadline for filing a claim against the decedent’s estate or an objection to the proceedings. Publication of this notice is very important, and the personal representative is responsible for making sure that the publication occurs as directed. The proofs of publication and the document called Verification and Certificate of Notice must be filed with the Probate Division within 90 days of appointment of the personal representative. Other duties of the personal representative are set forth in After Death - A Guide to Probate in the District of Columbia. Please read it carefully if you are considering becoming a personal representative.