Top tips for Personal Representatives in Washington State

Being appointed the Personal Representative of an Estate can seem like a daunting responsibility, especially given all the statutory or legal requirements.

For clarification, a personal representative is also called an executor when they are named in a will or an administrator when they are appointed by a court.  A female executor is also referred to as an executrix while a female administrator is also referred to as an administratrix.

The Estate Planning and Probate attorneys at Edmonds Washington law firm Beresford Booth can help navigate you through this process so that estate administration is straightforward, effective, and can be resolved promptly and appropriately. However, whether you jump into the role yourself or engage an attorney to help you, here a few helpful tips to remember:

Remember Your Duties as Personal Representative:
As the personal representative, you are responsible for doing the following:
• Collecting and inventorying the assets of the estate;
• Managing the assets of the estate during the probate process;
• Paying the bills or creditors of the estate
• Making distribution to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate

Fulfilling these duties in light of the statutory requirements and deadlines will help ensure you are administering the Estate correctly.

Search for Other Documents in Addition to the Will:
While the Will should express the wishes of the decedent, it may also be important to determine if the decedent had other documents that governed his/her assets and distribution.  Look for the following documents which may be helpful during estate administration:
• Safety deposit box rental agreements and keys
• Trust Agreements
• Nuptial Agreements
• Life insurance Policies
• Pension, IRA, or Retirement statements
• Marriage, birth, and death certificates
• Divorce papers
• Certificates of deposit, bank statements, checkbooks, and check registers
• Notes receivable and payable
• Motor vehicle titles
• Deeds, deeds of trust, mortgages, leases, and title policies
• Stock and bond certificates and account statements
• Bankruptcy filings
• Partnership, LLC, or corporate agreements
• Unpaid bills
• Health insurance papers

Any of these documents could affect how the Estate is administered or how certain assets are to be handled. Make sure you have a complete picture of the decedent’s estate distribution scheme.

Keep Track of Everything:
• Set up an estate accounting system at the beginning of administration of the estate. For your protection, keep records of all cash and other financial transactions of the estate and provide a written accounting to the beneficiaries.

• Prepare a written inventory of the estate assets. Make sure you include all assets and liabilities of the estate that will need to be addressed during probate.

• Keep track of any bills you pay and creditor’s claims that the estate receives. Be sure to keep track of deadlines and due dates.

• You may be entitled to be compensated for the time you spend carrying out your duties as personal representative. Keep track of your time spent working on the estate administration, including exactly what you did.

Protect Yourself from Potential Liability as Personal Representative:
As the personal representative you may be liable to the beneficiaries for any loss to the estate or for mishandling assets of the estate. Situations in which a personal representative may be found liable include:
• Failure to exercise reasonable care and skill in managing the property of the estate

• Negligently or intentionally using funds from the estate

• Failing to follow the will or commit other actions that breach your fiduciary duty as personal representative
• Negligently or intentionally failing to do something you should have done, such as properly inventorying the assets, or failing to pay the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate.

As personal representative, you’re responsible for managing the estate until it is distributed. What you can and cannot do may be specified in the will or by the probate code. To make sure you are properly handling the Estate and fulfilling your duties as a Personal Representative, contact Beresford Booth’s Estate Planning and Probate group.

BERESFORD BOOTH has made this content available to the general public for informational purposes only. The information on this site is not intended to convey legal opinions or legal advice.