The probate process can be broken down into four general stages:

  1. Start the Process by filing the Will (if any) and Petition.
  2. Gather and Appraise the Assets.
  3. Pay the Debts.
  4. Distribute the Assets.

In the District of Columbia, there are three different estate settlement procedures for probating an estate. They are:

  1. Unsupervised Administration is the main way estates are probated in Washington, DC.  This type of informal estate administration is designed for most estates where there is little or no disagreement about how the assets of the estate should be distributed.  This administration involves little court supervision and is faster than other types of administration.
  1. Supervised or Formal Administration may be appropriate when: 1) the estate includes complex arrangements involving investments, real property, or other assets; 2) interested persons anticipate a dispute concerning proper distribution of assets; and/or 3) one or more interested persons question the ability of the personal representative to fairly oversee the estate administration.  Supervised administration can provide added protection to the estate when the beneficiaries and the personal representative disagree on how to handle important aspects of the settlement process.  Although settling an estate using the supervised or formal probate administration procedures follows many of the same steps outlined on the preceding pages for unsupervised administration, there are important differences. If you are involved in a formal estate administration case, then you should refer to the D.C. Superior Court rules and case law and/or consult a probate lawyer for more information.  Remember, it is the personal representative's responsibility to prepare complete and accurate accounts. Mistakes and missing information on accounts slow down formal probate administrations in D.C. Superior Court.
  1. Small Estate Administration is a simplified way of probating a small sized estate or with probate property valued at $40,000 or less. This is generally the simplest, fastest, and least expensive probate procedure.

The laws of the District of Columbia protect beneficiaries in all three kinds of estates.  You have the legal right to receive copies of the estate papers including the Will, inventory, appraisals, accounts and fee requests by the personal representative and lawyer.  An heir or legatee always has the right to hire a lawyer who will represent his or her interest in the estate. Remember, the lawyer hired by the Personal Representative to help probate the estate represents the Personal Representative and not the individual heirs and legatees. The heirs and legatees always have the right to hire a different lawyer who will represent their particular interest in the estate.  Most beneficiaries in uncomplicated estates should normally expect to receive most of their share of the estate proceeds within six to nine months of the appointment of the personal representative by the court.

If a problem arises at any point in the settlement of an estate, you should first deal directly with the personal representative or the estate's lawyer. If you are an heir, legatee or creditor, you have rights.  You can note your objections by filing the appropriate paperwork with the court.  A copy of anything you provide to the court should be provided to the personal representative and the other interested persons as well. 

Statutory Allowances

The D.C. probate laws provide that the surviving spouse and the decedent's minor and dependent children are entitled to receive a Family Allowance of up to $15,000 and the surviving spouse is entitled to receive a Homestead Allowance of $15,000 and $10,000 in value of Exempt Property. These allowances and exemption are to be satisfied promptly after the court appoints the Personal representative and are deducted from the assets of the estate.