Can I Be the Personal Representative to an Estate?

People often wonder who should act as the Personal Representative to an Estate.  What are the qualifications for being a Personal Representative?  Is there a priority as to whom the Court would prefer to act as the Personal Representative?  What if I do not want to act as a Personal Representative, but the will has already appointed me?  These are all questions I regularly receive when new clients come to my office seeking assistance with probate.

So who does the Court prefer to act as a Personal Representative?

Generally speaking, the Court prefers the following individuals to act as a Personal Representative when probating an estate.  Primarily, the Court will provide first priority in determining a Personal Representative to anyone that was nominated to such position in the Will of the deceased.  If no one was nominated, if no will exists, or if the nominated individual refuses to act as the Personal Representative, then the Court will next place priority on the Spouse of the deceased.  After that, the Court will grant priority to next of kin in the following order; (a) Child or children; (b) father or mother; (c) brothers or sisters; (d) grandchildren; (e) nephews or nieces.  In the event that the none of the above are willing to serve, most states, including Washington, provide additional individuals that may act as the Personal Representative (See RCW 11.28.120).

So do I have to act as the Personal Representative if I have priority?

Absolutely not.  Nobody is forced to act as the Personal Representative if they do not wish to.  However, you should take in to consideration who else might become the Personal Representative if you decline.  While being a Personal Representative is not necessarily a desired position, if you are the best person for the position, you should very much consider taking it.  If someone else with less knowledge of the deceased, or less regard for the deceased’s wishes becomes the Personal Representative, they might create a mess of the estate and mishandle the inheritance of those that are supposed to receive.

What, if anything, would disqualify me to act as a Personal Representative?

In most States, including Washington, if you are of unsound mind, been convicted of a felony, or if you have been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, you are not considered qualified to act as a Personal Representative (See RCW 11.36.010).  Additionally, if the Court has reason to believe the individual nominated has or may waste, embezzle, mismanage, or otherwise damage the Estate, then the Court can deny and/or remove a Personal Representative from being appointed (See RCW 11.28.250).

Last Question! If I reside in a State outside the one that the decedent lived in, Can I Still be a Personal Representative?

Yes, but the Court will usually prefer someone in State to act as the Personal Representative simply for purposes of convenience.  However, if you were appointed by will, or if you have a higher priority, you can still be appointed so long as you appoint what is called a “resident agent” that lives in the State of the decedent, and will essentially accept notices and filings on your behalf.  Additionally, out of state Personal Representatives will also generally be required to file a bond with the Court.  (See RCW 11.36.010).

If you have any further questions regarding who may act as a Personal Representative to an Estate, or if you have questions on the probate process in general, Nowakowski Legal PLLC would be glad to assist.  Contact us for a free consultation today!

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