Naming the estate executor – also known as the personal representative in Washington – is one of the primary reasons to write a will (the last will and testament). But what’s the role of the estate executor after the testator’s death? The personal representative plays a critical role in the probate process, but their primary job is to protect the deceased person’s property and ensure that all debts and taxes are paid before the assets are distributed to the heirs.
Being appointed as the estate executor can feel overwhelming and confusing at first. That’s because you do not understand what your duties are and how to behave to avoid liability and removal from your position. If you have questions regarding your role in the probate or estate administration process, the estate planning attorney at Terry Law Firm, P.S., can help. With offices in Kent and Sumner, Washington, Attorney Scott Terry serves the estate planning and estate administration needs of clients throughout the state, including King, Thurston, and Pierce counties.
What Is the Role of an Estate Executor?
The estate administration process can take anywhere from six months to two years (sometimes longer), depending on the complexity of the estate. An estate executor plays a critical role during the entire process.
The personal representative’s duties include but are not limited to:
- Collecting and managing the decedent’s assets
- Preparing a list of assets and liabilities (the so-called inventory)
- Conducting appraisal of all assets in the estate
- Paying the estate’s taxes and obligations
- Selling assets (if necessary) to pay debts and bills
- Distributing the estate’s assets to the heirs
The estate executor must fulfill their duties in good faith. Failure to do so may result in liability and serve as grounds for removal.
Who Can Serve as an Executor in Washington?
The requirements for becoming an estate executor – or personal representative – differ from one state to another. The following requirements apply in the state of Washington:
- The person must be 18 years of age or older; and
- The person must be of sound mind.
Many states prohibit people with felony convictions from being appointed as estate executors. Under Washington law, a person cannot serve as an executor if they have a felony conviction or a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude.
Grounds for Removal of the Executor
It is not uncommon for estate executors to be removed and replaced by the court. Common grounds for seeking the removal of the personal representative in Washington are:
- Breach of fiduciary duty (failure to act in good faith);
- Mismanaging, embezzling, or wasting the estate’s assets;
- Committing fraud upon the estate;
- Neglecting the estate or its assets;
- Being incompetent in performing duties; and
- Being permanently removed from the state.
In order to successfully petition the court for the removal of the executor, beneficiaries or other interested parties must show evidence to prove that there are valid grounds for the removal. In addition, the beneficiaries or interested parties must demonstrate that the estate executor’s conduct has caused or is about to cause damage to them.
Compensation for Executor
Being the executor of the estate is no easy task, which is why personal representatives are usually entitled to financial compensation for performing their duties. Often, the will specifies how the executor will be reimbursed for performing their duties. If there is no will or the document does not specify compensation for the executor, the estate will adhere to Washington’s compensation rules.
Washington law requires compensation for the personal representative to be “reasonable” without elaborating on what is and isn’t reasonable. Generally, reasonable compensation for the executor will depend on the following factors:
- The executor’s duties, including the effort and time required to fulfill their responsibilities
- The size of the estate
- The average compensation for executors in the area
- The person’s capabilities and experience in the probate process or estate administration
Estates often use a service-rendered approach and pay executors for their services by the hour. Alternatively, the executor may charge a percentage of the total estate value, though this approach is less common in Washington.
Attorney Scott Terry Can Help
If you have been appointed to serve as the estate executor (personal representative), Attorney Scott Terry can help. Contact Terry Law Firm, P.S., if you have any questions about your role as the estate executor in Washington. From his office in Sumner, Washington, Attorney Terry assists people nominated to act as estate executors throughout the state, including Kent, Puyallup, Lake Tapps, Auburn, and Orting. Schedule a free, 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation.
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