An executor who has been granted nonintervention powers by the court has dominion over the decedent’s estate. The court has authorized them to administer the estate without court involvement. According to RCW 11.48.010, “The personal representative shall be authorized in his or her own name to maintain and prosecute such actions as pertain to the management and settlement of the estate, and may institute suit to collect any debts due the estate or to recover any property, real or personal, or for trespass of any kind or character.” For example, an executor can initiate a wrongful death lawsuit in order to pursue a recovery on behalf of the heirs.
Although an executor with nonintervention powers has much authority, there are limits, as described by a recent New York Times article “DNA Tests Could Clear an Executed Man. Why a Judge Said No.” The article discusses the Tennessee case of Sedley Alley, who was executed thirteen years ago for the 1986 rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman, Lance Cpl. Suzanne Collins. Prior to his execution, Mr. Alley’s attorneys requested that articles of clothing worn by Ms. Collins at the time of the attack be tested for DNA. The request was denied.
April Alley, Sedley Alley’s daughter, was appointed as the executor of her father’s estate. In that role, she sought to exert superpowers – by making another request for DNA testing on behalf of the estate. Shelby County judge Paula Skahan denied the executor’s request on the basis that the estate lacked standing to make the request. The New York Times article states, “Judge Skahan said state law governing DNA tests after conviction did not explicitly permit an estate to ask for them. No court in Tennessee had faced this issue before, she said, and the State Supreme Court might come to a different interpretation. The State Legislature could also act to permit the testing, she said.” According to an additional article written by the case in the ABA Journal, “Estate of executed man has no standing to obtain DNA testing, judge rules”, “Skahan stated ‘Petitioner has not pointed this court to any authority stating that the execution of a family member is an ‘injury in fact’ for standing purposes.’” “In addition, Skahan said, ‘This court is incapable of providing a remedy that would address any potential injury in this case. Mr. Alley’s sentence has been carried out—he has been executed.”’ The executor, who is being represented by the Innocence Project is appealing the court’s ruling.
It will be interesting to see whether the pending appeal is successful. It’s a novel concept to argue that an executor’s dominion extends beyond actions designed to provide a financial benefit to the estate, and that the executor possesses the superpowers necessary to pursue setting aside the conviction of an executed man.