Occasionally, I serve as a Resident Agent for probates being handled by my law firm. Pursuant to RCW 11.36.010(6), “A nonresident may be appointed to act as personal representative if the nonresident appoints an agent who is a resident of the county where such estate is being probated or who is an attorney of record of the estate, upon whom service of all papers may be made; such appointment to be made in writing and filed by the clerk with other papers of such estate; and, unless bond has been waived as provided by RCW 11.28.185, such nonresident personal representative must file a bond to be approved by the court.” In other words, if the Personal Representative is not a Washington resident, the court wants a Resident Agent who is a Washington resident to be appointed so it has jurisdiction over someone involved in the probate.
Recently, as a Resident Agent, I needed to open a safe deposit box of the deceased person. The person died without putting any other signers on the box. And, the Personal Representative lived too far away to be able to travel to the bank to take care of the problem without expending much time and expense. But opening up a safe deposit box is easy, right? Not so fast. It can actually take considerable time to provide the bank with the necessary documentation to demonstrate that sufficient legal authority exists to make the request to open the safe deposit box, make the appointment, travel to and from the bank (remember, most attorneys bill for travel time), wait for the locksmith to drill the box open, gather the contents of the box, and then sign the necessary documentation to show that I possess the box’s contents and agree that the box should be closed.
Who pays for all of this work? The estate. But this is an expense that can easily be avoided with some advance planning. If you have a safe deposit box, it’s desirable that you make arrangements at the bank to put an extra signer on the box – someone who you completely trust. And that extra person should be someone other than your spouse or romantic partner. You likely spend considerable time with that person and, sadly, you could both get into an accident and die simultaneously. If you remember to include an extra signer then, upon your death, the estate doesn’t have to pay for an attorney to open the box. Instead, your friend or family member can do it for free. By taking this step, you’ll decrease the attorneys’ fees needed to administer your estate, thereby leaving more money available for your beneficiaries – family, friends and charities.