Top Causes of Death in Washington


“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…” says ancient scripture. True, eventual death is inevitable. Yet the actual reasons for expiration are relevant, especially if the death is considered wrongful. Like it or not, the circumstances surrounding a person’s demise have implications far beyond the emotional pain of loved ones. The legal ramifications can extend long after the death occurs. Probate lawyers, who advise executors and beneficiaries as to the settlement of a deceased person’s estate, are well-acquainted with the legal issues that arise in death’s aftermath. For this reason, those considering forming or amending a will should consult seasoned and expert Tacoma attorneys who can anticipate unexpected contingencies.

Causes of death are many and varied in Tacoma, Pierce County and Washington State. The most frequently recorded appear below.

1. Cancer

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer remains the leading cause of death in the state of Washington. The most recently available statistics demonstrate that 12,664 Washington residents passed away from cancer in 2017. This places the Evergreen State 35th among the states in cancer deaths. CDC calculates an age-adjusted death rate at 148.4. This represents the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 residents. The national rate stands somewhat higher at 152.5. Death statistics according to cancer type are not available. Issues arising during probate in Tacoma may relate to the decedent’s wishes regarding treatment and whether a living will was in place.

2. Heart Disease

Ranking 43rd among the states, health-conscious Washington suffered 11,582 deaths due to heart disease. Using the same measurements for rate, that number translates to 138.8 within state boundaries compared to 165.0 nationally. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 56.3 percent of Washingtonians get regular aerobic exercise yet 61.5 percent can be classified as overweight or obese. Smokers comprise 16.1 percent of residents. Genetic and other risk factors were not published by AHA. According to the Pierce County Health Department, the Tacoma region has the highest incidents of heart disease in the state.

3. Alzheimer’s Disease

This degenerative condition claimed 3,710 lives in Washington in 2017. The death rate for Alzheimer’s exceeds the U.S. rate considerably: 46.0 for Washington; 31.0, across the country. Georgia shares this rate with the Evergreen State, with only Mississippi and Tennessee exceeding them. Remembering that CDC adjusts for age demographics, the conditions of the deceased and the care received are open questions relative to why some states have such high mortality due to Alzheimer’s disease. The threshold between mental competence and dementia can bear upon whether a will is valid. Skilled and reputable Tacoma probate attorneys can help families receive that determination. In Washington, the probate process can take up to a year as the attorney assists survivors with paying debts, taxes and distributing the remaining assets according to the wishes of the deceased. If the decedent’s cognitive abilities were impaired when the will was executed, and a power of attorney had not been signed, the family or beneficiaries may have to settle the matter in court.

4. Accidents

This category embraces all manner of mishap, not just automobile fatalities. 3,455 accident victims died in Washington in 2017, meaning about 44.0 for every 100,000. Placing 41st among the other states, Washington posts a better record than the nation as a whole: 49.4. For those curious about vehicular crash fatalities, Washington has a rate of 16.3, with 497 deaths statewide (according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). CDC defines accidents broadly, specifying any injury or death that is unintentional. These include falling down stairs or mistakenly ingesting a toxic substance, for example.

5. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

This term describes maladies such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. These are better known under the label of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). They can stem from smoking, allergies or environmental conditions, among other causes. Heart failure, respiratory failure, cardiac arrhythmia and pulmonary embolism can serve as the event that brings death. In Washington, 3,177 died from COPD, a rate of 38.0 and a standing of 36 among the 50 states.

6. Stroke

As the number six cause of death in Washington, strokes are also the fifth leading cause in the United States. Strokes occur when one or more blood vessels delivering nutrients and oxygen to the brain suffer a blockage or a rupture. This event is also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. The rate of stroke deaths in Washington is 36.9 per 100,000; 3,028 died from stroke in the Evergreen State in 2017. This puts Washington at 28th nationwide.

7. Diabetes

This disease is sometimes called the “silent killer.” Although there are a number of differences between type-1 (juvenile) and type-2 (adult onset) diabetes, both are marked by unstable blood sugar and insulin levels. Over time, diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys, vision, feet, reproductive organs and heart. left uncontrolled long enough, it brings death. With Montana, Washington ranks as 23rd among the states in terms of diabetes mortality. Over 1,800 died from complications related to diabetes, leaving the Evergreen State with a rate of 21.6/100K. Pierce County leads the state in diabetes rates.

8. Suicide

Unlike accidents, suicide involves taking one’s own life intentionally.It is associated with emotional turmoil, grief and depression that reach acute stages. Nationally, the suicide rate per 100,000 is 14.0 while in the far corner of the northwest, the rate sits at 16.9. This reflects the 1,297 lives taken in 2017. For those with a sound estate plan, suicide normally does not affect the disposition of the will. An expert probate lawyer in Tacoma can advise on the matter further.

9. Pneumonia and Influenza

Both of these are, like COPD, crises of a respiratory nature. The flu is exclusively viral in origin whereas pneumonia could be either viral or bacterial. As a rule, pneumonia is a more dangerous lung infection and its symptoms are acute. Yet the flu can also prove fatal, especially to infants, the elderly and others in poor general health. In 2017, 1,041 Washingtonians succumbed to one or the other of these illnesses, leaving the death rate at 12.6 compared to the U.S. rate of 14.3.

10. Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis

The 982 residents who died of liver complications in the state of Washington placed the state behind 19 others as far as mortality goes. The Evergreen State beats the nation with 11.4 deaths per 100,000 against 10.9 for the U.S.A. Cirrhosis is a late-stage scarring of the organ due to contracted hepatitis and/or alcoholic overindulgence. As scar tissue accumulates, liver function deteriorates. Ingesting poison by accident or intent can also render the liver inoperative.


Many factors affect the length and nature of the probate process. The cause of death is one of them. Each cause listed above can bear upon the settlement of possessions, property and wealth. Legal professionals well-versed in probate practice know when and how these causes play into the disposition of an estate. Trying to untangle the many questions that come up during probate is difficult and time-consuming without years of experience to draw upon. Consulting an able and trustworthy probate attorney is well worth the effort.