The person appointed by the probate court as either Personal Representative (also known as the executor or executrix) or Administrator is legally responsible for handling the orderly administration of the Estate as set forth by Washington state law. This person holds a “fiduciary” responsibility to the Estate to properly distribute assets and pay debts. They are typically required to file an “oath” with the court affirming these responsibilities. They are held accountable for their actions and decisions by the heirs and other beneficiaries and in some cases may be formally supervised by the probate court. This person is responsible for creating an inventory of all estate assets and must be able to account for all assets they consolidate and take into possession of the Estate.
This person is typically entitled to a reasonable fee or commission for their services.
Typically, the Personal Representative/Administrator works closely with an attorney who can ensure that they meet all of the legal requirements of probate. They may make partial distributions of funds to the Estate heirs so long as enough funds are reserved to cover all debts of the deceased person. This person is also responsible for ensuring that all IRS tax filings are made on behalf of the deceased and all tax obligations are paid. Consulting with a professional tax preparer is typically one of the responsibilities of the Personal Representative/Administrator. Choosing the person who will fulfill these responsibilities is therefore an important decision.
It is sometimes unnecessary to initiate a probate action in court. This is true if no formal legal powers are required to distribute Estate assets. There are many avenues which people can take to avoid the necessity of probate—titling real estate into what is referred to as “Transfer on Death” deeds and naming beneficiaries on financial accounts are two common methods of avoiding the need for a probate action in court. In this case, the Personal Representative will still be responsible for collecting, administering and distributing personal property pursuant to the terms of the deceased’s Will. In most cases, however, the perception that probate is something extremely difficult and to be avoided at all costs is untrue. Washington courts have streamlined the process of a probate action and if a Personal Representative is guided by a knowledgeable attorney, the process is usually not onerous.
Even in cases where a formal probate action is not required, Washington law requires that anyone in possession of a deceased person’s original Last Will and Testament file that document in superior court.