Whether appointed by the court or named in a will, personal representatives play an integral role in the Washington probate process. They are charged with managing the decedent’s estate, paying debts and distributing assets as instructed by the will or as provided by state law if no will exists.
Washington law sets certain qualifications for a personal representative. He or she must be over 18, be of sound mind and not have ever been convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude. The person appointed is a fiduciary, which means he or she must act in the best interests of the estate beneficiaries.
Personal representatives have multiple responsibilities. They must:
- Notify beneficiaries and creditors of the appointment — Heirs and beneficiaries must be notified of the representative’s appointment within 20 days. Notice should also be given to the decedent’s creditors.
- Identify and protect the estate assets — A representative must inventory the property in the estate within three months of appointment. This includes bank accounts, real estate, investments, insurance policies, retirement accounts and personal effects. If property is in the hands of third parties, steps must be taken to recover it.
- Collect all debts owed to the deceased — This includes all measures necessary to accomplish repayment, including litigation.
- Pay debts owed by the deceased’s estate — Costs of estate administration and other debts must be paid according to the priority specified by law.
- Distribute the assets to the heirs or beneficiaries — Property must be distributed in accordance with the decedent’s will or with Washington probate law if there is no will.
- Handle tax matters related to the estate — The personal representative must obtain a tax identification number for the estate, file an estate tax return and pay any taxes due.
- Appear in court for any probate proceedings — This includes defending against contests to the will or any of its provisions and responding to any allegations about mismanagement of the estate.
- Make a final report to the court — The probate proceeding is closed once the court is satisfied that the personal representative has fully discharged his or her duties.
Due to the amount of work that may be involved, a personal representative may be entitled to charge for the services they provide during the probate process. It’s essential for a personal representative to keep records of expenses and track the time spent on the case.
As a fiduciary, a personal representative can be held personally liable for failing to fulfill his or her duties to the estate. If you are appointed to this position of trust, it’s best to retain an experienced probate litigation attorney to help you navigate the process.
The legal team at Bottimore & Associates has extensive experience assisting personal representatives in probate matters throughout Washington. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Tacoma office.