Tarutis & Brunstrom

Duties of a Personal Representative in Washington State

Posted by Tarutis & Brunstrom on June 22, 2015

What you need to know if you are appointed as a Personal Representative in the state of Washington.

To be appointed the Personal Representative of a person’s estate can often be perceived as an overwhelming obligation, especially if you know nothing about what the appointment entails. Yet, in reality it is really not all that difficult and it gives you the opportunity to honor the deceased person by ensuring that his or her wishes are carried out as reflected in their Will.

So what is a Personal Representative?

A Personal Representative is an individual whom another has trusted upon their death to oversee his or her money and property.  A Personal Representative is usually nominated in the Decedent’s Will, or self-selected, and is the person, once appointed by a court, responsible to settle the Decedent's financial affairs and to distribute property in accordance with their Will or if there is no Will, then by right of representation under the laws of Washington. The Personal Representative also has a duty to make sure that all of this is done in an efficient and economical manner.

What are the Personal Representative’s duties?

There are specific duties required by law to be performed by an appointed Personal Representative. The following are a few helpful tips to remember:

Basic Duties as Personal Representative:

As the estate’s Personal Representative, the following are basic duties required by law:

  • Accounting for and collecting the assets of the estate
  • Overseeing the estate assets during the probate process
  • Disbursing funds for bills or creditors of the estate
  • Distribution to heirs or beneficiaries of the estate

Satisfying these duties and taking into account the statutory requisites and deadlines will help ensure you are managing the estate correctly.  In essence, the Personal Representative is a manager who ensures that any outstanding and legally required debts are timely paid, who gathers all of the estate assets and distributes them in accordance with a Will, or if there is no Will, in accordance with state law. 

Collect All Documents:

A Decedent’s Will should convey their wishes regarding how their property should be distributed.  However, some property may pass outside the person’s estate and consequently may not be subject to their Will.  The first step is to ascertain if the Decedent had other documents that legally control the distribution of his or her assets, such as specific beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and financial accounts.  Consider the following documents which may assist estate administration:

  • Safety deposit box keys and contract
  • Trust documents
  • Birth, marriage, death and divorce documents
  • Life insurance
  • Bank statements, checks, account statements, stocks and bond certificates
  • Retirement, 401k or pension statements
  • Mortgage, titles, deeds and leases
  • Vehicle titles or loans
  • Business documents, LLC or corporation charters
  • Health insurance policies
  • Any unpaid bills or outstanding debts

Any of these documents can affect how the person’s estate is administered or in what way specific assets are to be managed.  Of course, if you are not sure you should always obtain legal advice and direction from an attorney who has experience in this area

Keep Good Records:

First, do not take any action until you have been appointed by a court to act as the Personal Representative. Simply being named in a Will is not enough; there must be a court order and the Clerk of the Court must issue Letters of Administration (the Decedent died without a Will) or Letters Testamentary (the Decedent died with a Will) before you have the authority to take any action.

Once appointed, it is recommended you establish an accounting system at the outset and ensure that all records of any financial transactions regarding the estate are presented and recorded. There are several computer assisted programs or you can simply use a check book.  Whether on a computer or simply by paper and pen, you should maintain a detailed record of any bills you pay or any creditor’s claims that are received by the estate which you are legally obligated to pay.  Not all claims are valid, and when in doubt, make sure you have the advice of an experienced attorney.

In Washington, a formal inventory is no longer required to be filed with the court, but any heir can request one.  As a result, it is recommended that you prepare a written inventory of all the estate’s major assets including the liabilities of the estate that will need to be determined during the probate process.  A detailed report listing every knife, fork and spoon is not required, but at the very least some of the major assets should be covered.

Finally, you may be eligible for compensation while carrying out your duties as the Personal Representative. This determination and the amount of compensation should be established before you begin.  If in doubt, seek and obtain a court order with notice to all of the heirs to avoid any problems or misunderstandings later on.  Also ensure you keep a detailed record of the time spent working on the administration of the estate.

Protect Against Liability:

As the Personal Representative you are accountable to the heirs or beneficiaries for any mismanagement of the assets of the estate. Circumstances in which a Personal Representative could be found liable include:

  • Failing to use reasonable care in handling the assets and property of the estate
  • Negligently or deliberately using funds from the estate
  • Failure to abide by the will or perform other deeds that breach your fiduciary duty
  • Negligently or deliberately neglecting to perform tasks required by the Personal Representative.

As the appointed Personal Representative, you are responsible for handling the estate until it is completely distributed and the estate is formally closed. The terms of what is or isn’t allowed may be specified by the probate code or by the Decedent’s Will. To ensure you are properly managing the Decedent’s estate and fulfilling your duties as Personal Representative, you should always feel free to contact an experience attorney at Tarutis & Brunstrom.

Have questions about becoming a Personal Representative in Washington State?

The Estate Planning and Probate attorneys at Tarutis & Brunstrom in Seattle, Washington can help navigate you through this process so that estate administration is straightforward, effective, and can be resolved promptly and appropriately. To learn more about the services we offer throughout all of Washington, or to schedule a consultation, please call 206.223.1515 or complete our online contact form.