When someone passes away, their affairs must be settled such that all outstanding issues related to their estate are taken care of including paying their outstanding debt and disposing of their property. Under the supervision of the probate court, which in Washington is the Superior Court, the personal representative is the person responsible for managing the tasks required to settle a decedent’s estate. Note that executor and administrator are other names for the person filling the role of the personal representative based on the circumstances of the person’s nomination and appointment. The general term is personal representative.
Appointment of the Personal Representative in Washington
If the decedent left a will in which they nominated a representative, that person is typically the person who the court appoints for the job. If the person named in the will is not qualified or refuses to serve, or if there is no will, then the court can appoint a qualified person. To qualify, the person must be mentally competent and must have reached the age of majority. In addition, if the person is a convicted felon or has been convicted of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, they would be disqualified from serving. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.36.010
Upon approving the person, the court will issue them “letters.” This document serves as confirmation that the person to whom they were issued has the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
Note that any interested party has the legal right to object to a personal representative appointment and the court will make a determination. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.36.010
Duties and Responsibilities of the Personal Representative in Washington
Once appointed, the personal representative’s duty is to manage the estate and wrap up the decedent’s affairs. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.48.010
Identify probate property. Estate property must be identified and controlled. As the official representative of the estate, the personal representative has the right to immediate possession of the decedent’s property, both real and personal. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.48.020. They are also required to keep the property in good condition in order to maintain the estate’s overall value. If the decedent had a business, upon showing the court that it is in the best interests of the estate, the representative of the estate has the right to continue running the decedent’s business, except if the business is a partnership.
Determine value of estates. In order to properly manage the estate, it is necessary for a determination of the value of the assets in the estate to be made. Within the first 3 months of the process, a list of the property and its value must be created and must be filed with the court. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.44.015. Understanding the value of the assets in the estate will help understand the amount of money in the estate available for paying estate debts, expenses, taxes and what is available for distribution.
Pay estate debts. A common question about settling a decedent’s estate is related to what happens to the debt owed by the decedent when they died. The decedent may have left unpaid utility bills, credit card bills, car loans, and outstanding taxes. If there is enough money in the estate, these debts must be paid. However, there is a stipulation. The creditor must file a claim within the time frame and in the manner described in the notice that the personal representative is required to give. If a timely filed claim is rejected the claimant has the right to file a lawsuit demanding payment.
Final report and petition for distribution. As the final step before asset distribution, the personal representative must file the final report with the court. The report provides a snapshot of the health of the estate after all the activities of the administration process. The petition for distribution provides a list of the beneficiaries, heirs, and assets that remain in the estate and requests authorization to distribute assets and to be discharged.
Distribute estate assets. Once the petition is approved, assets can be legally transferred to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will. In the absence of a will, the assets will be distributed based on the law of intestate succession. Wash. Rev. Code § § 11.04.015
Personal Representative Compensation in Washington
Personal representatives are entitled to compensation based on the compensation that the decedent provided for in their will. If compensation is not provided for in the will or if there is no will, they are entitled to compensation that is just and reasonable as determined by the court. Wash. Rev. Code § 11.48.210