According to a recent Caring.com survey, only 42 percent of US adults have estate planning documents. While thinking of your life ending can be difficult, it is essential to have the proper estate planning documents in place. For more information, please see my previous blog post “Why you need a will and why you should have an attorney draft it.” When you finally decide that you do want to have your will drafted, there is another important decision to make. Other than naming a guardian if you have minor children, one of the most important decisions to make is to carefully choose your Personal Representative, also referred to as an Executor. It is important to nominate someone responsible, detail-oriented, reliable, and trustworthy. While the task is generally straight forward with the help of a good probate attorney, it can be time consuming and depending on your estate, complicated. For example, some Personal Representatives may be dealing with disagreements between the beneficiaries or a co-Personal Representative. Deciding who would be the right Personal Representative is dependent on your personal situation.
A Personal Representative is responsible to administer your estate and distribute the assets as you instruct in your Will. The Personal Representative manages the entire process of probate and can be liable for failing to fulfill his or her duties. These specific duties are outlined in more detail in my previous blog post “Probate process and responsibilities of a Personal Representative.” Legal expertise is unnecessary as Personal Representatives generally work with an attorney for the probate proceedings and a CPA for any tax issues.
In Washington State, anyone is considered qualified to serve as a Personal Representative unless they are a minor, a person of unsound mind, or a person who has been convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude, such as theft. RCW 11.36.010. Many decide to appoint their spouse or an adult child as the Personal Representative of their estate because of the potential Personal Representative’s familiarity and relationship with the family and beneficiaries. However, at times it can be problematic to choose between children so some people will have co-personal representatives in order to avoid any future conflict between the children. It is important to appoint someone that is responsible and able to carry out your final wishes and to avoid making the decision based on emotion. Be sure that if you do name more than one person that they are able to work well together. Some even consider appointing a close friend if they do not have a family member to choose from. If you don’t have a family member or friend that you feel comfortable appointing as the Personal Representative, you can consider appointing a professional personal representative or an attorney. Professionals and attorneys will be familiar with the procedures in administering an estate and will also be neutral as they won’t have a personal interest in the estate. It is also important to note that often times, close friends or family members will serve as the Personal Representative without charging the estate, while a professional would cost your estate.
Last, it is critical to name an alternate Personal Representative so that in the event your Personal Representative predeceases you or does not wish to serve, you have someone else that can be available as a back-up. It is best to discuss the appointment with the individuals that you nominate so that they can let you know whether they would be willing to take on this role. If you would like additional information about choosing the right Personal Representative or creating an estate plan, please contact our office.
Nahal Nabavinejad is an Estate Planning Attorney at MDK Law. This blog contains general information and is not intended to provide specific legal advice or establish an attorney client relationship. This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.