What does it mean to be the Personal Representative or Executor of an estate?

When you create a Last Will and Testament, you designate someone to administer the Will after you die. This is the Personal Representative. If you die without a will, “intestate”, the court will appoint a Personal Representative to your estate. They are responsible for administering your estate and hiring an attorney on behalf of your estate to for assistance with the probate court process. Provided that they meet the legal qualifications to serve, they will be granted “Letters Testamentary,” which give them the authority to distribute your estate in accordance with the provisions of the will, including paying debts, notifying heirs, beneficiaries and creditors, inventorying your assets, selling or maintaining assets, filing and paying taxes, and transferring assets to beneficiaries.

Under Oregon law, a personal representative is a fiduciary who is under a general duty to collect the income from property of an estate and preserve, settle and distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the law, specifically Oregon Revised Statutes Chapters 111 – 117, as expeditiously and with as little sacrifice of value as is reasonable under the circumstances.

A person who has been convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, or who is not of sound mind, or is a minor is not qualified to serve pursuant to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) chapter 11.36 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=11.36). In Oregon, the disqualifications of the executor are defined in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) section 113.095 and also include minors and persons of unsound mind, but are slightly different in that they highlight disbarred attorneys and, unless related to the deceased, funeral directors (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/113.095).

If an estate is solvent, the Personal Representative can be paid from the estate for their services and this would be treated as taxable income. Often, a Personal Representative who is also a beneficiary of a will would not want to receive this type of compensation because it depletes the estate and inherited assets aren’t taxed to the beneficiary. However, if it is a complex estate and there are many beneficiaries then compensation may be important for fairness. A Personal Representative does incur personal liability for the estate while they are acting in that capacity so there is a great burden to keep proper accounts and to not make distributions from the estate until a full accounting of debts and taxes is made so that there are sufficient assets to insure the solvency of the estate, otherwise the Personal Representative could find themselves responsible for paying such expenses if they prematurely disbursed the assets and are unable to reclaim enough from the beneficiaries.

General responsibilities for serving as a Personal Representative for Washington are identified in RCW chapter 11.48 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=11.48) and for Oregon at ORS section 113.035 (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/113.035).