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Tough Love for Fiduciaries

By March 28, 2017 No Comments

If truth be told, probate attorneys spend a lot of time, billable time, “parenting” their clients, who are the executors or administrators (a.k.a. “fiduciaries”) of an estate. The conversations often proceed something like this, “Mary, do you remember that information I need to complete the estate Inventory? Well, I really do need it. There’s a deadline for the Inventory. Could you please give it to me?” Or, “Hi John. I know you think your Dad’s distribution in his Will is unfair. No John, you just can’t distribute the money as you see fit. You need to follow the instructions in the Will.” Or, “Sam, remember that Declaration re: Creditors that I sent to you, and then reminded you four times that you needed to sign and send it back to me? Yes, that one. Could you please sign it and get it back to me?” The list goes on.

There’s a perception among some executors and administrators of an estate that, once they are appointed by the court, the probate becomes a private family matter and they can essentially do whatever they want. If life were so simple. In reality, that’s not how it works. In order to be appointed as a fiduciary, you need to sign an Oath to be filed with the court. It says, as an example, “The undersigned, being first sworn on oath states: I am the ExPR who is seeking to be confirmed as the ExPR of the above-named decedent’s estate by the above-entitled Court. I solemnly swear that I will perform, according to law, the duties of my trust.” In other words, you can’t do whatever you wish. You need to perform “the duties of [your] trust.”

RCW 11.48.010 states in pertinent part, “It shall be the duty of every personal representative to settle the estate, including the administration of any nonprobate assets within control of the personal representative under RCW 11.18.200, in his or her hands as rapidly and as quickly as possible, without sacrifice to the probate or nonprobate estate.” That doesn’t mean that, if you have time once in a while on the weekends, you can work on the probate. You need to move forward “as rapidly and as quickly as possible.”

Being a Personal Representative is a big job. It’s a hassle. It can take oodles of time and energy. It’s not for everyone. If you are asked to do it, think it over! Do you have enough time? Are you fully committed to doing the work, all the work, in a timely manner? If so, that’s great! If not, it’s okay to decline to serve. People do it all the time. But please, don’t sign up for the job unless you are really serious about doing it right. Please know that, if you are committed to doing the tough job of being a fiduciary, you absolutely can do it. We’ll be happy to answer all of your questions, and help keep you on track to achieve a successful outcome!

Photo credit: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan on Flickr

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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