Who Can Serve as Administrator for an Intestate Estate?
We often do not want to plan for death. There are certainly plenty of more uplifting things to do. While estate planning serves a critical role in self-protection as well as protection of one’s family, it often falls to the side as a lower priority endeavor because of its inherent morbid nature. It should not. Lawyers will often advise individuals and couples to establish an estate plan that addresses what happens to their assets upon death. At a minimum, individuals and couples should have a will so that they can control who will inherit their assets.
However, they should also have an established estate plan so that they can designate who will serve as personal representative to administer their estates after death. After all, choosing a trustworthy personal representative can help ensure the proper execution of a decedent’s wishes as well as fairness to the beneficiaries of the estate during its administration.
We have discussed the financial consequences of dying without a will or dying “intestate” in another article here. RCW 11.04.015 outlines the order of succession for who will “take” under the laws of intestacy. However, another consideration arises in terms of who will administer the estate when someone dies intestate. RCW 11.28.120 specifies the specific individuals who have standing to act as an administrator of an estate. In order, they are as follows under the statute:
1. Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner
2. Next of kin in the following order: (a) child; (b) parent; (c) sibling; (d) grandchildren; (e) nephews or nieces
3. The trustee of an inter vivos trust instrument, testamentary trustee of the decedent, a guardian or conservator of the decedent, or an attorney-in-fact that had control over substantially all the decedent’s assets.
4. A beneficiary or trustee of the decedent’s nonprobate or probate assets.
5. The director of revenue, or the director’s designee, for estates subject to laws where estates escheat to the state; or the secretary of the department of social and health services for estates owing debts for long-term care services.
6. A principal creditor.
7. If more than 40 days have passed since death to present a petition for letters, or if a court is satisfied that there are no next of kin (or if the kind waive their right and there are no creditors or they waive their rights as well), then the court can appoint a contract service provided with the office of public guardianship and conservatorship, or any suitable person to administer such an estate.
In other words, like with the order of who “takes” an estate’s assets under the laws of intestacy, the Washington State legislature has similarly constructed a guideline for who can serve as administrator of an intestate estate. It is, therefore, critical for potential heirs and beneficiaries to understand the intestate statute not only for purposes of inheritance in the event no formal estate plan has been created, but also to key in on whether they can serve as an administrator should they want to. For those thinking of creating an estate plan, however, the statute also provides guidance on the consequences of failing to name a personal representative.
Generally, it is best not to leave one’s estate up to the purview of the statute. The attorneys at Beresford Booth PLLC have extensive experience with both estate planning and estate administration, including estate administration in the case of intestacy.