One of the goals of a comprehensive estate plan is to define the beneficiaries of a person’s assets clearly. However, to execute the will, it is necessary that someone properly distributes the assets. That responsibility falls to the executor of the will.
There’s an old expression, “You can’t take it with you.” However, another way to look at it is that you leave it all behind: all the paperwork filed, assets gained, debits acquired, and more.
What is an executor in a will?
In Washington state, an executor is better known as a personal representative. Executors are appointed in someone’s Last Will and Testament or in a trust to manage an estate and the distribution of assets (and settling debts) after their death. If the executor of the will is not named, the court will appoint someone to fulfill the duty.
An executor’s primary responsibility is to follow a will’s directives, such as identifying assets, settling debts and liabilities, and distributing the estate to beneficiaries. Depending on the size of the estate and its complexity, it can take several months and up to a year for an executor to complete their responsibilities. Essentially, the executor is a liaison between the estate and the probate court. However, this person is also a liaison between the estate and beneficiaries, heirs, and other family and friends (the executor can also be a beneficiary).
How to be an executor of a will
Performing the Washington state executor requirements can be a complex task. In fact, an executor can face legal consequences if they neglect a duty or promote their self-interest over the wishes of the deceased. However, understanding how to execute will make the process much easier.
Generally, the first step is to secure a certified copy of the death certificate and deliver it to the probate court along with a copy of the will (be sure to keep at least one copy before filing because the court will want the original). In addition, financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, often require a certified copy of the death certificate before releasing funds or transferring assets. Other documents the executor needs to secure include property deeds (or other property-related documents), financial accounts, life insurance policies, a list of assets and liabilities, and any estate planning documents.
Because an executor is required to keep the heirs and beneficiaries updated with the estate’s status, they may be responsible for notifying some loved ones about the decedent’s death. The executor must also inform other people and institutions, such as a landlord, the Social Security Administration, the post office, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc.
Next, it’s time to dust off those Excel skills because it’s spreadsheet time. To determine the value of an estate, the executor must inventory and establish the worth of all assets and debts. This spreadsheet must be submitted to the probate court (which may provide an inventory template). A professional appraiser may be required if the estate is vast or complicated (this cost would count against the estate). In Washington state, the executor has three months from the date of their appointment to submit this inventory to the court.
Once the value of an estate is determined, the executor needs to see if probate is necessary (probate is the legal process of transferring titles and assets out of the name of someone who passed away and into the name of their beneficiaries). There are several reasons that the estate could skip the probate process. The main reason is that the estate’s value is below the $100,000 threshold. For estates that exceed $100,000, one of the most effective ways to avoid probate is using a revocable living trust. However, some life insurance profits and retirement savings may also bypass probate, and real estate that was jointly owned typically passes to the surviving owner without going through probate.
If probate is required, the executor must file an application to be appointed executor (even if they are already named in the will). This is generally a formality. However, it is possible for someone to lodge a petition. Once an executor is approved by the probate court, the probate process is officially open.
The executor of the will must inform all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors once probate begins. According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 11.28.237, “Within twenty days after appointment, the personal representative of the estate of a decedent shall cause written notice of his or her appointment and the pendency of said probate proceedings, to be served personally or by mail to each heir, legatee and devisee of the estate and each beneficiary or transferee of a non-probate asset of the decedent whose names and addresses are known to him or her, and proof of such mailing or service shall be made by affidavit and filed in the cause.”
Throughout probate, the executor is required to manage the assets and ensure they do not incur unnecessary depreciation. The executor must also pay all debts the decedent or estate owes, such as taxes. If the debts exceed the estate’s value, the executor should seek help from an attorney or the probate court to determine the debt priority.
Once the deadline for creditors to file a claim against the estate has passed and all debts and taxes are paid, the executor can begin to close the probate process and the estate. The executor needs to file a plan with the probate courts for the distribution of the assets. If approved, the executor can follow through on the plan, file proofs with the court, and the case closes.
How long does an executor have to settle an estate in Washington state?
According to Washington state executor requirements, an executor has no exact timeframe to settle an estate. It can take several months and up to a year for an estate to pass through probate. However, once probate begins, some deadlines must be achieved throughout the process, such as informing heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors.
Executor fees Washington state
An executor can be compensated for their time, especially if the estate is complex or the probate process takes an extended amount of time. However, unlike some states, there is no specific formula or fee structure to determine the amount. Instead, RCW 11.48.210 states “If testator by will makes provision for the compensation of his or her personal representative, that shall be taken as his or her full compensation.” If not, then the probate court will determine “just and reasonable” compensation.
Is a will invalid if an executor dies?
No, the will is not invalid. However, the person who created the will may need to amend it or nullify the will and draft a new one. If another executor was named in the will, they inherit the responsibility.
One more issue: there is no such thing as an executive of a will. The only term for someone who manages a will is executor (an executive is someone holding a high position in a company or organization).
Being appointed the executor of a will is an important responsibility, and we hope we have clarified any confusion. However, if you have more questions about Washington state executor requirements or any other estate planning issues, such as how to avoid probate or the difference between a living trust vs will, please reach out to Harbor Law Firm.
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