What Is a Personal Representative?

A Personal Representative is a person appointed by a superior court in Washington to administer the probate assets of a decedent.  RCW 11.28.010.  With respect to the beneficiaries of an estate, a personal representative is a fiduciary.  The term "personal representative" is a synonym for the word "executor" and the terms may be used interchangeably.  RCW 11.02.005(12).

The person nominated in a decedent’s Will is entitled, unless otherwise disqualified, to Letters Testamentary which authorize that person to stand in the decedent’s shoes as to the decedent’s legal affairs, and that personal representative undertakes several duties, primary among which is to administer the estate honestly and promptly.  See RCW 11.48.010 et seq.  A testator may, by terms in her Will, relieve her personal representative of all duties imposed under the probate statute, or add duties not imposed by the statute, with the exception of the duty to act in good faith and honest judgment.  RCW 11.68.909(2).  A spouse, if qualified, has a right to administer the community property of her deceased spouse’s estate, regardless whom the decedent nominated as personal representative.  RCW 11.28.030.  After the nominee who cannot or will not serve, persons are entitled to letters in the following order: surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, the trustee of decedent’s trust, decedent’s attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney, beneficiaries of decedent’s estate, the director of the Department of Revenue, the secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services (but only if the decedent’s estate owes the state reimbursement for long-term care costs paid by the state), principal creditors, or any suitable person (only after forty days have elapsed since decedent’s death).  RCW 11.28.120.  A personal representative may be required to post a bond for her administration of the estate assets.  RCW 11.28.185.  The personal representative’s bond is usually waived if the decedent’s Will specifies that the personal representative shall serve without bond.  If a personal representative dies or resigns or is removed, the superior court will appoint her successor.  RCW 11.28.280.

To be appointed personal representative, a petitioner cannot be a minor, a corporation, a person of unsound mind, or a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.   RCW 11.36.010.  Crimes involving "moral turpitude" are those that constitute  "an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men or to society in general."  City of Seattle v. Jones, 3 Wash. App. 431, 467, 475 P.2d 790 (1970), affirmed by 79 Wn.2d 626 (1971).   Crimes involving moral turpitude are characterized by their intentional injury to the victim's physical or financial well-being, and a general disregard for the law.  If a person at one time qualified becomes unqualified, the court shall revoke that person’s letters.  RCW 11.36.010.

An out-of-state personal representative must have a resident agent appointed for service of legal papers in Washington State.  The resident agent must reside in the county where the probate has been filed or must be an attorney of record for the estate.  The resident agent may be required to provide bond for his services.  RCW 11.36.010.