When a person dies, he or she usually leaves assets in the form of real property, stocks, bonds, money in bank accounts, personal property, etc. Through the probate process, the legal heirs of decedent are identified, the assets are marshaled, debts of the decedent are paid and the remainder is distributed to the legal heirs. If the decedent had executed a Last Will and Testament, the terms of the Will dictate how the assets are distributed. Usually the Will names a person to be appointed as a personal representative. Unless there is an objection, the court will appoint the person named in the Will to serve as the personal representative. It is this person who, working with an attorney, manages the administration of the probate. If no Will was executed during the decedent's life, Washington State statutes provide a framework for how the assets are distributed. In such a case, the court appoints someone to serve as the administrator (the name for the person who manages the probate when there is no Will or no one named in the Will).

During the course of a probate the Washington State statutes guide the attorney and the personal representative at every turn. Certain notices must be provided to potential heirs and to those that the decedent may have owed money before death. Sometimes the personal representative will be granted powers by the court to administer the probate without further intervention of the court. Sometimes, the court does not grant such authority and the personal representative must obtain court approval of most actions.

There are occasions in which someone feels that the decedent's Will was not validly executed. In such a case, a law suit, called a will contest, may be filed with the court within four months of the opening of the probate. Once all the disputes are resolved, the assets distributed and fees paid, the personal representative reports this to the court and the court will enter an order closing the probate.