When a person dies with a will, the estate will generally have to go through the probate process in accordance with Washington laws1 before property can be distributed to beneficiaries. The testator (the deceased maker of the will) will have named an executor to take charge of the process of administering the estate. This process can involve much more than simply taking property and handing it out to beneficiaries. Instead, the various duties of an executor can include the following:
- Take inventory of the property and assets of the estate;
- Notify beneficiaries of the death;
- Notify creditors of the death;
- Manage investment accounts, pay bills, and pay taxes on the estate during probate;
- Defend the estate in any wrongful claims by creditors;
- Defend the estate in any challenges to the will;
- Distribute the assets and property as set out in the will provisions;
- Close the estate with the probate court.
Throughout this process, the executor also has a fiduciary duty2 to the beneficiaries, which requires the adequate and impartial management of the estate.
Remedies for an executor who breaches these duties
If an executor refuses to perform the required duties or breaches their fiduciary duty, both the estate and the beneficiaries can suffer substantial losses. Beneficiaries can take legal action, however, and can petition the probate court to compel the executor to properly perform their duties. If a court order still does not work, beneficiaries can petition the court to remove the executor and appoint a new one.