Reminder: You are not the Executor until the Court appoints you.
I get a lot of calls from people looking for help from a probate attorney who tell me something like this:
“My (insert loved one’s relationship) died a couple of weeks ago and I am the named executor in the will. I’ve started doing a bunch of stuff and want to get access to the accounts to do more stuff. How do I do that?”
While I appreciate the enthusiasm I always have to invite the to pump the brakes just a little bit on their efforts as the executor (called the Personal Representative in Washington State).
The reason I ask them to slow down a little is at the time of the call, if no probate has been opened, they are technically acting without any authority (translation = they are NOT doing the right thing).
Most people believe if the will names you as the executor, once someone dies you just jump in and start working.
This is not true for a couple of reasons.
First, it has not been confirmed that the will is valid.
There are specific requirements a will must meet to be valid, and the court is the determining party in this part of the process.
Second, once the court determines the will is valid and orders the opening of probate, they have to find that you are eligible to become the Personal Representative.
Fortunately the bar for eligibility is very low.
Once that happens the Personal Representative also has to file an Oath with the court stating they understand this job is an important one and they promise to follow the law in carrying out their duties.
Then, and only then, are Letters issued, which give the personal representative the authority to act on behalf of estate.
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