When you have been appointed as personal representative to an estate, you’re faced with a legal process you may be unfamiliar with. While the process isn’t necessarily difficult, it can be lengthy with multiple steps involved. It’s important to understand your duties, so that you don’t get overwhelmed by the process of fulfilling the last wishes of your family member or loved one.
For most people, the responsibilities as personal representative to an estate begin with the last will and testament.
Filing the Will With the Probate Court
The will of the decedent (the person who has died) must be filed with the Court and proven to be valid in order for you to assume responsibility for the estate. The quickest way for a will to be considered valid and “self-proven” in the state of Washington is when it has been notarized by the decedent and two witnesses. If the will is not self-proven, does not name a personal representative, or cannot be found at all, you’ll need to discuss your options with an estate planning and probate attorney to determine your next step.
Along with the will, there are also several legal petitions that need to be filed. The particular paperwork required depends on the details of the will (if it exists), the estate, and your relation to the decedent. Your lawyer will help you pick the right petitions to file.
Once the will has been proven before the Court and you have agreed to serve as personal representative, the Court will answer your petitions and issue paperwork granting you permission to act on behalf of the estate.
Duties of the Personal Representative
Once you have been issued documents from the state, your real responsibilities as a personal representative begin. Here is a brief look at these main duties:
- Issue notification of appointment. One of your first duties is to notify beneficiaries named in the will of your appointment. You will also need to notify any heirs who have not been named in the will, as well as the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
- Inventory assets for appraisal. Your next task is to make an inventory of assets, including bank accounts and cash, investments, real estate, insurance and/or benefits, and personal property—vehicles, jewelry, art, and other household goods. Your inventory should list every asset along with its value. You may need to enlist the services of a professional appraiser. A correct valuation of the estate is critical, as the sum is used to determine if the estate will owe any estate taxes.
- Pay estate taxes and issue notice to creditors. You’ll need to find and pay any outstanding debts, including taxes, bills, loans, or mortgages. You are also required to give notice to any creditors that the estate has gone to probate, so they can make a claim for any money owed. The local newspaper is probably the easiest way to issue notice, and doing so can significantly reduce the length of time that creditors have to make a claim against the estate.
- Pay the beneficiaries and close the estate. Once all of the estate’s outstanding debts are paid, it’s time to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. Make sure that you get a signed receipt releasing the estate from all future claims from each beneficiary.
Once debts are settled, bills and taxes are payed, all assets have been distributed, and any claims or disputes have been resolved, you may be able to file for closure of the estate. Check with your attorney to make sure you’ve completed the final paperwork and can be released of your responsibility.
We Can Help
Although the process may seem fairly straightforward, there are a number of rules and regulations that can be challenging for the inexperienced. Thus, it’s helpful to hire a skilled estate planning and probate attorney who can guide you through every part of the probate process to save time, make it less stressful, and help you maximize the assets that beneficiaries will receive.
The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny have over two decades of experience with estate and probate law here in Washington, and we are here to help you with your duties as a personal respresentative. Call us today to arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue law office at (425) 460-0550, or use our online contact form.