What happens when a Washington resident dies owning real property in one or more other states? As a Washington resident, the decedent’s Will must be probated here in Washington. That is known as the “dominant probate.”

Two probates can be required if someone lived in one state but left solely owned real estate in another. If that’s the case, there may need to be a probate in each state. That’s because real estate is always governed by the law of the state in which it’s situated, not the law of the state where the owner lives.

Probate in a second (or third) state is called “ancillary probate,” and for the executor of the deceased person’s estate, it means more bother and expense. The executor will probably need to find a lawyer in the other state to handle the probate.

Probate is begun first in the deceased person’s state of residence. (This is sometimes called the “domiciliary probate” because it takes place where the deceased person was domiciled—that is, made a permanent home.) Then a second probate court case (the ancillary probate) is opened where the out-of-state real estate is located. In order to administer the real property in other states one or more “ancillary probates” must be opened in those states where the properties are located. This usually requires hiring a local attorney and providing him with a certified or even legalized copy of the Will filed with the court here in Washington.

Once a will has been accepted by the probate lawyer in the state of residence court, generally it will be accepted by another state without further proof. It’s called a “foreign will.”

Because ancillary probate increases the expense and complexity of post-mortem administration, ownership of real property outside Washington is usually a good reason to seriously consider building your estate plan on the foundation of a revocable trust, which can avoid probate entirely.