When a loved one dies, there are many financial and legal matters that need to be taken care of, such as estate plans. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re grieving is dealing with the estate of your loved one.
Our Letters of Testamentary FAQ blog is designed to hopefully help take some of the stress off of you during this difficult time. We answer some of the most common questions people have about this process, such as what it is, how you can obtain them, and much more.
What is an executor/personal representative?
An executor or executrix is the person named in a will who is responsible for administering the estate. Washington law uses the term “personal representative” instead of executor; however, the terms are commonly used in practice interchangeably. A personal representative is also someone who is appointed by the court when there is no will. Even though someone is named as a personal representative in a will, that person does not have authority to act on behalf of the estate unless and until he/she is officially appointed as a personal representative through the court process of probate.
What are my responsibilities as a personal representative?
Your primary responsibility as a personal representative is to carry out the wishes of the deceased person, as outlined in their will. You also have fiduciary duties to the estate, which, in essence, dictates that you do everything in the best interest of the estate. A personal representative is an individual who is responsible for managing a deceased person’s estate through probate. Responsibilities of the personal representative include, but are not limited to, closing outstanding accounts, selling the decedent’s property, paying creditors, filing tax returns/paying taxes, and ultimately distributing estate assets. The personal representative is also responsible for providing notices to the heirs/beneficiaries and to various state and federal agencies.
You, in your capacity as a personal representative, will be represented by an attorney. If you are also an heir or beneficiary of the estate, you may find yourself in a situation where there is a conflict of interest. An example of that is if you, along with another beneficiary, want the same asset. You could not, as the personal representative, unilaterally decide that you will receive the asset. If you cannot agree, you would need to engage your own attorney, in your capacity as an individual beneficiary (not in your capacity as the personal representative), to represent your individual interest.
It is also important that the other beneficiaries of the estate know that your estate attorney does not represent them individually and cannot give them legal advice. Many beneficiaries believe erroneously that the estate attorney represents them. This belief is often based on the reasoning that goes something like this: since I am a beneficiary of the estate, and since the attorney represents the estate, the attorney also represents me. That is not the case, and it is essential to inform the other beneficiaries that they need to engage their own attorney if they have questions regarding their legal rights.
How do I get letters of testamentary?
Letters of testamentary are only issued by the court if the personal representative officially opens probate with the Superior Court. Probate is opened by filing a petition with the court asking that the court appoint you as the personal representative. The attorney would also prepare an order for the court to sign that appoints you as the personal representative and allows you to act on behalf of the estate with certain capabilities or restrictions as are required by law. To qualify for letters testamentary, you need to be at least 18 years old and cannot be convicted of any felonies or crimes involving moral turpitude. Examples of crimes involving moral turpitude include stealing, embezzlement, fraud, etc. You must also file an oath with the court promising that you will fully carry out your duties as the personal representative.
SALMON CREEK LAW OFFICES
The death of a loved one is always a difficult time, and the legal process of probate can be complicated and confusing. If you are facing the probate of a loved one’s estate, and are looking for a probate lawyer, Probate Attorneys Trent Kunz and Marissa Bartolucci can help. At Salmon Creek Law Offices, our legal team understands the challenges you are facing, and we will work with you to ensure that the probate process is as smooth and stress-free as possible. We offer a reduced hourly rate for initial consultations so that you can get the advice and direction you need without breaking the bank. Call our law firm today to schedule your consultation. We’re here to help.
Note for Reader: If your question(s) weren’t answered in this article, there is a Part 1 article about this topic. If you still have unanswered questions after reading both articles, feel free to contact us.