Eric Watness

Comm. Eric B. Watness (Ret.)

JAMS Mediator, Arbitrator and Referee/Special Master

Case Manager
Michele Wilson
T: 206-292-0457
F: 206-292-9082
1420 Fifth Ave., Suite 1650, Seattle, WA 98101


Commissioner Eric B. Watness (Ret.) an experienced neutral, has successfully resolved many disputes involving trust, estates, will contests, guardianships and family matters. He spent 16 years as a Court Commissioner with the King County Superior Court in their Ex Parte and Probate Department conducting numerous settlement conferences, and 13 years as a practicing attorney handling probate, adult guardianships, family law and adoption matters.

Commissioner Watness effectively applies his experience from the bench and private practice to alternative dispute resolution, allowing him to swiftly get to the heart of a case and address the most important issues in order to help the parties reach a fair and efficient conclusion. His professionalism and calm demeanor garner respect from his clients.

Commissioner Watness is a frequent presenter and author for attorney continuing education programs pertaining to ADR and court commissioner duties in the civil, probate, guardianship, trust, adoption and juvenile court practice areas. He often addresses attorney and fiduciary fees, which is of interest because a recent prolific increase in probate and trust litigation has revolved around issues of fees.

Representative Matters

  • Beneficiary disputes:
      • Settled matter involving multi-million dollar life insurance policy that had claims by both current and former spouses of deceased 
    • Mediated dispute between decedent’s mother and short-term wife of decedent regarding a home and an equity claim
  • Mediated matter involving two wills of a husband and wife with two pairs of children from prior marriages
  • Handled case that involved complicated issues of establishing funding to return money to the estate and resulting distribution to other heirs
  • Contested accountings:
    • As a Special Master for Trust, probate and LLC/partnerships: Conducted an investigation and issued reports to the court as a Special Master into alleged mismanagement of interrelated family real estate partnerships, LLCs and trusts holding a marina (dissolved through receivership) and two apartment complexes managed by one sibling who was also appointed as a personal representative in probate estate
    • Mediated a dispute between four siblings over their parents' estate, involving claims that one of the siblings, who was the former PR, had stolen from the estate. Mediated a dispute between a PR and his sibling as well as a financial manager, about transactions made between the estate and the sibling
    • Handled many cases involving petitions to remove PRs or trustees for failure to provide routine accounting or for questionable handling of funds and breach of fiduciary duties
  • Guardianship issues:
    • Successfully settled guardianship matter involving 83 year-old mother and two children involving financial and health decisions
    • Adjudicated a contested guardianship petition filed by Adult Protective Services where the husband was found incapacitated; the incapacitated person and his wife had encumbered their home by way of a private loan but were unable to account for the proceeds leading to a Vulnerable Adult petition against the private party who lent the money
    • Decided requests to remove life support when next of kin was unavailable or unwilling to make decision; ordered medical procedure when ward refused to consent and the ethics board at the hospital strongly recommended the procedure be conducted 
  • Intestate estates:
    • Handled all aspects of a complicated probate matter involving a decedent who died unexpectedly, leaving an intestate estate, a significant other with undetermined interests, a series of incomplete financial transactions, several casinos operating at a loss, unpaid taxes and a significant amount of personal property and real estate holdings
    • Oversaw the liquidation of real estate, adjudication of familial interests, the sale of a casino by auction and the resolution of competing family interests and tax issues
  • Irrevocable family trust:
    • Heard matter where daughter sought to be appointed as successor trustee; the father, who created the trust, was acting as trustee and questions were raised about his capacity to act as such; father then executed a conditional resignation dependent on the acceptance of nominated trustees to be appointed but both nominees declined
  • Life estates:
    • Handled matters including meretricious relationship wherein the decedent left real estate to long term girlfriend as a life estate and decedent’s children challenged; and estate where couple placed real estate in a marital trust but did not provide for ongoing maintenance and taxes; after husband’s death, estate became cash poor and trustee was unable to maintain the property
  • Receiverships:
    • Ordered the removal of a trustee in a significant trust proceeding involving real estate and business holdings
    • Oversaw the appointment of a receiver in lieu of a successor trustee because the proposed successor trustee was unwilling to assume potential liability for creditor claims and IRS taxes. Reviewed all actions and fees of the receiver and potential claims of creditors and beneficiaries
  • Undue influence
    • Decided many matters claiming undue influence relating to creation of wills, actions under power of attorney and life-time gifting
  • Validity of will:
    • Admitted handwritten will into probate based on the law of a foreign jurisdiction allowing holographic wills
Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS.

  • Awarded, Betty B. Fletcher Judge of the Year to all King County Superior Court Commissioners by Washington Women Lawyers, 2011
  • Member, Washington State Bar Association Elder Law Section, serving on Executive Committee as co-chair of grants committee, 2011
  • Member, Washington State Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, 2011
  • Awarded, Angel in Adoption Award, Congressional Coalition on Adoption by nomination of Washington Rep. Jay Inslee, 2010
  • Awarded, Outstanding Leadership and Commitment, Guardianship GAL Program Chair King County Bar Association, 2009
  • Member, Guardianship/Probate Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 2009-present
  • Member, Washington Court Improvement Program Grant Steering Committee, By appointment of the Washington State Supreme Court, 2005-present
  • Judicial Co-Chair, King County Bar Association Guardianship GAL continuing education program, 2000-present
  • Member, King County Unified Family Court Committee, 2000-2001
  • Awarded, Outstanding Achievement Award, Region 4 Adoption Project Washington DSHS Div of Child and Family Services, 2000
  • Member, Family and Juvenile Law Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 1991-present
  • Member and Past President, Washington Family Support Council, 1979-1981
  • Participates as a student and presenter in frequent continuing legal education programs focused on family law, elder abuse, probate, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency.
  • Court Commissioner, King County Superior Court, Ex Parte and Probate Department and Juvenile Court Department, 1995-2011
  • Founding partner and Attorney at Law, Eric B. Watness and Associates, Seattle, 1982-1995
  • Assistant Attorney General, Washington State Attorney General, Representing Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 1977-1982
  • J.D., Willamette University College of Law, Salem, OR, 1977
  • B.S. in Sociology and History, Portland State University, Portland, OR, 1974
  • Portland Community College, Portland, OR, 1970-1971
  • Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, 1966-1967

Counsel Comments

    • "[Settling two difficult cases] was in large part due to the tireless efforts of Commissioner Eric Watness (Ret.) from JAMS."

      - Seattle Attorney 
    • “[Commissioner Watness] is impossible to ruffle. He is very practical, uses good common sense and parties feel they have been listened to. He is willing to make the hard decisions.”

      - Prominent Seattle Area Lawyer 
    • “[Commissioner Watness] gets into the details of the case and is tenacious. He takes initiative, is creative in looking for a resolution.”

      - Washington State Attorney
    • “Thank you so much for your patience, calmness and professionalism through the mediation process. The fear of the unknown turned to a burst of confidence when I met you! The outcome was a ‘win-win’ for both parties.”
    • “I was impressed at how well Commissioner Watness knew the facts of our very complicated estates at the outset of the mediation. His preparation definitely helped us through the process. Further, his patience and knowledge helped greatly.”
    • “Commissioner Watness was great! His excellent, unbiased skills on the bench have translated into excellent, unbiased skills as a mediator.”
    • “Commissioner Watness was outstanding. He was thoughtful and very kind with my client. He swiftly produced a very fair deal.”
    • “When Commissioner Watness was on the bench, I thought he did a great job, was up on the issues and familiar with the law. I feel he was able to transfer that to his mediation practice. It was clear he read the materials, understood the issues and was prepared. Commissioner Watness was able to clarify the issues with the parties then start focusing on them to come to a settlement.”
    • “Commissioner Watness handled the matter brilliantly. I think he made both sides feel comfortable and I think that helped the case settle.”
    • “Commissioner Watness was well prepared and clearly understood the complicated history of this matter. He paid close attention to the legal and practical concerns of my client and gave honest assessments of our case.”
    • “Commissioner Watness knows the subject matter and is good with the emotions as well. I appreciated Commissioner Watness’ ability to switch gears from talking about the law and facts to helping the parties with emotional issues.”
    • “His experience as a commissioner helped both parties understand the likely outcome at trial.”
    • “[Commissioner Watness has…] knowledge of family law and a calm demeanor when dealing with exceptionally high conflict parties.”
    • “[Commissioner Watness has…] listening skills and the ability to assess the case quickly. [He has an…] ability to communicate assessment to client in effective manner.”
    • “[Commissioner Watness has…] good ability to explain the process and the benefits of reaching a resolution and the need to put emotions aside to the extent possible.”



Practice Areas

  • Arbitration
  • Business/Commercial
  • Construction Defect
  • Education/Schools
  • Estate/Probate/Trusts
  • Family Law
  • Government/Public Agency
  • Indian Law
  • Personal Injury/Torts
  • Special Master/Discovery Referee
Available nationwide


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