Washington Personal Representative Instructions
As Personal Representative of a Washington Estate, you are a fiduciary with respect to the beneficiaries of the Estate. This means that the Court will hold you to the highest standard of conduct, and you will be accorded very little slack if there are disputes concerning your management of the Estate. You must keep accurate records of every transaction. Leave a paper trail, and keep it organized. You must meticulously keep estate assets separate from your personal assets. You must preserve and take care of Estate assets, as any person of ordinary prudence would care for their own property. You must place the interests of the Estate beneficiaries above your own. If the Estate suffers losses, you might be held personally accountable. Any beneficiary can call for an accounting of your activities and the Estate assets. This is serious business. Treat it as such. YOUR DUTIES GENERALLY The Personal Representative of an Estate must: 1. Identify Estate assets, 2. Determine the date-of-death values of the Estate assets, 3. Protect the Estate assets, 4. Gather the Estate assets, 5. Identify bona fide creditors of the Estate, 6. File all the appropriate pleadings with the Court, 7. File all the appropriate tax returns with governmental agencies, and 8. Distribute all the Estate's assets to beneficiaries according to the Will, or, if the decedent was intestate, according to Washington law. The timing and order in which you distribute the Estate's assets are determined by the laws of Washington State. ADMINISTERING ESTATE ASSETS You must identify, protect, and gather Estate assets. Be systematic. Go through every piece of paper in the decedent's possession (including all check books, bank statements, income tax returns, correspondence, other financial records such as bills and receipts). As you go, make a list of assets (with identifying numbers) and creditors (with addresses and phone numbers). Turn over every stone. Speak with every family member and person who knew the decedent intimately concerning what the decedent owned and what the decedent owed. Ask about possible lawsuits, promises to pay that were informal, and informal loans to people. Find every asset and liability. I enclose a questionnaire for your use as you investigate the decedent's affairs. Fill it out carefully. We will use it to demonstrate to the Court that you have diligently sought out all reasonably ascertainable creditors and estate assets. I recommend that you create the following filing system: 1) purchase at a local office supply store a plastic box with lid made to hold hanging letter-size files, 2) purchase 50 letter-size hanging files with labels, 3) make one hanging file for each asset (bank account, car, house, mutual fund), 4) make one hanging file for each potential creditor, 5) make one hanging file for Pleadings, 6) make one hanging file for Communications, and 7) make one hanging file for Attorney. As you identify assets and creditors, note it on the Probate Questionnaire and label a hanging file. Put all information related to an asset or liability in its labeled hanging file. When I send you Court documents, put them in the Pleadings hanging file. When you write a letter not related to an asset or liability, or anyone sends you a letter not related to an asset or liability, file it in Communications. Put this letter and any subsequent correspondence to or from me in the hanging file labeled Attorney. If you create this filing system, your work as Personal Representative will be immensely simplified, and our communication will proceed more smoothly. ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP By Washington law, your counsel represents you. But, also under Washington law, your attorney has fiduciary duties extend to all the beneficiaries of the Estate. Attorneys are confident that you will fulfill your duties as Personal Representative faithfully. If you do not do so, however, you put your attorney in a very difficult position. The dilemma is this: if your attorney reveals any wrongdoing on your part, he or she am not being loyal to you and maintaining your confidences, but if that person does not reveal wrongdoing on your part, then he or she is not being loyal to the Estate's beneficiaries. Washington rules of ethical conduct authorize an attorney to disclose to the court any wrongdoing on your part, and then to withdraw as your attorney. If the Estate's assets are wasted, neglected, or mismanaged by you, you may be personally subject to civil and/or criminal actions. And it is likely your attorney will withdraw. This is a serious responsibility you have undertaken, and the Court will hold you to the highest standard of conduct. To protect yourself, do three things: be scrupulously honest, be thorough and methodical, and communicate frequently with your attorney and the estate beneficiaries.