Suppose a fictitious 55-year-old Seattle man, Raymond Risky, decides to get in shape by running a 100-mile ultra-marathon. Raymond is substantially overweight, a smoker, and has difficulty running around the path at Green Lake. Nonetheless, Raymond manages to enter the race. To his credit, Raymond gives it his all – and miraculously makes it to mile 16, where he collapses and suffers a fatal heart attack. Raymond is single but is survived by a 14-year-old daughter, Rhoda Risky. Raymond dies intestate, leaving almost a million dollars in assets behind. Rhoda is Raymond’s sole heir according to Washington’s law governing intestate succession.
Rhoda’s mother, Susie Stanford, retains counsel and files a petition in King County Superior Court to serve as the Administrator of Raymond’s estate. Susie, as Raymond’s former girlfriend, is not entitled to letters of administration pursuant to RCW 11.28.120. And, significantly, even though Susie is Rhoda’s mother, that relationship does not give Susie the authority to represent Rhoda’s legal interest as an heir. What exactly does that mean? For Rhoda to be appointed by the court as the Administrator of Raymond’s estate, either a hearing must be held with advance notice given to all heirs (in this case, Rhoda), or else all heirs must sign declarations indicating that they waive the right to a hearing and consent to Susie’s appointment.
And there’s the rub. Susie, even though she’s Rhoda’s mother, does not have the legal authority to accept notice of the hearing on Rhoda’s behalf. Nor does she have the legal authority to consent to her own appointment as Administrator on behalf of Rhoda. So who does have the authority?
RCW 11.76.080(2) states that when there is a hearing on a petition to grant someone Letters of Administration with nonintervention powers requiring notice, as in this example, the court “shall appoint some disinterested person as guardian ad litem to represent the allegedly incapacitated person … who, on behalf of the alleged incapacitated person, may contest the same as any other person interested might contest it, and who shall be allowed by the court reasonable compensation for his or her services.” In other words, a guardian ad litem needs to be appointed by the court to protect Rhoda’s interest in Raymond’s estate because Rhoda, as a minor, is an “incapacitated person.” Once a guardian ad litem is appointed, that person can choose to either consent to Susie’s appointment as Administrator, consent with some limitations as to Susie’s authority to act without the court’s permission, or else object to Susie’s appointment.
Additionally, once the Administrator is appointed, Rhoda’s guardian ad litem will be involved throughout the estate’s administration to ensure that Rhoda’s interests as a minor beneficiary are protected. What does that look like in practice? Please stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series to find out!
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.