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Trust and Estates Attorneys

Personal Representatives in DC Probate Cases

When a person dies without a last will and testament, or all of the individuals nominated to serve as personal representative are unable or unwilling to serve, DC provides an order of priority for who may serve as personal representative. Generally, a spouse may have first priority, followed by children, parents, and other relatives. A creditor of the estate may also petition the court to open the estate, and request that a third party serve as personal representative.

In these instances a consultation with an experienced DC probate lawyer is imperative to ensure that your assets are properly protected and your family are taken care of. Do not leave anything to chance — call a lawyer today and begin the probate process.

Getting Appointed as a Personal Representative in DC

Whether or not a person is required to attend a court hearing depends on the facts of the case and the nature of administration proceedings that are initiated. The facts of the case dictate what probate administration proceedings are necessary.

Fiduciary Duties for Personal Representatives

If a personal representative fails to manage the estate properly, then he or she may have breached his or her fiduciary duty. The magnitude and nature of the breach will determine whether the court will remove the personal representative for breach of fiduciary duty, and whether the personal representative is personally liable for the breach. For example, if the personal representative failed to file a necessary pleading with the court in a timely fashion, the court may issue a notice that requires the personal representative to attend a hearing. The court may allow the personal representative to cure the default by filing the required pleading, or it may remove the personal representative.

In unsupervised administration proceedings, it is often the beneficiaries or the heirs of the estate that must bring the personal representative’s breach of fiduciary duty to the court’s attention.

Personal Representatives Who Are Out-of-State

The residence of the personal representative does not have a bearing on his or her ability to serve as personal representative and to fulfill his or her duties. If a personal representative is not a resident of the District of Columbia, he or she will have to sign the power of attorney section of the Petition for Probate allowing the Register of Wills to accept service on his or her behalf.

If a personal representative moves out of the District of Columbia after his or her appointment, but prior to the conclusion of the estate administration, the personal representative may need to file an appointment of a resident agent allowing a resident of the District of Columbia to accept service on his or her behalf.

Time Commitment for Personal Representatives in DC

The DC probate process, in most cases, is not an onerous process. However, the process of administering an estate itself can often take one (1) year. There is a six (6) month creditor period for which an estate must remain open for creditors to have an opportunity to come forward and make a claim against the estate. There is also a period where interested persons can object to the appointment of the personal representative.

Generally, estates stay open throughout those two periods. Once the creditor period and objection period have expired, all assets are marshaled, and all debts and expenses are paid, the personal representative and the attorney begin to make a plan for distribution of the estate assets.

The process is dependent on the facts of the case, and the preference of the personal representative. Although the personal representative cannot assign his authority to another individual, a DC probate lawyer can work to take a lot of the burden off of the personal representative.

In addition to the time that must be dedicated to administering an estate, personal representatives will also have to deal with a lot of paperwork and different familial opinions coming into play throughout the entire process. Since the role is such an important one, a person must be certain to take all considerations into account before deciding whether or not they are suited for the position.

Estate Administration

Each estate administration is different, and the time burden on the personal representative is often dependent on two factors: the nature of the assets and the family dynamic. For example, an estate that has several accounts with multiple financial institutions, numerous parcels of real estate, closely  held business interest, or other unique assets may result in the estate administration process being more time consuming than an estate that has only one or two bank accounts. In addition, in the event that a family is not working cooperatively together, then the estate administration can also be more difficult for the personal representative.

On average, most personal representatives are able to complete their duties on weekends and after work. However, if there is a court hearing required, a personal representative may be required to appear. There are a few items that personal representatives can not delegate. Personal representatives can not delegate the signing authority, meaning their DC probate attorneys are not able to take their place and sign anything in their stead.

Factors That Impact Duration of Probate Process

The factors that change the lengths and complexity of the process are whether the decedent died with a last will and testament, and often the last will and testament has been maintained. For example, there could be a last will and testament, but all the individuals named as personal representative may be unable or unwilling to serve. With no nominated personal representative able or willing to serve, the process of having an individual appointed as personal representative may be more difficult and time consuming.

The administrative process may also be dictated by the nature and titling of the decedent’s assets. For example, if the estate assets are all bank accounts, they are often very easy to locate and value. If the decedent died while owning an interest in a closely held or family business, valuing the asset for probate and estate tax purposes may be more difficult.

The other wild card in the estate administration process is family dynamics. Grief can affect individuals differently. Cases where the family is working well together often helps to move the process faster and efficiently while helping to keep administrative costs down. In the event that the family dynamics are such that the members are disagreeing and there are objections that are filed or anything of that nature, then the process can often be much longer and the costs much higher.

Removal or Resignation of Personal Representatives

If the personal representative declines to serve, or passes away during his or service, then the successor personal representative nominated in the last will and testament or the next person in priority according to the DC laws may petition to serve as successor personal representative and complete the estate administration.

If the personal representative no longer wishes to serve, he or she may resign from serving through the court. Then the successor personal representative nominated in the last will and testament or the next person in order of priority for the DC law may petition the court to serve. He or she would petition and be qualified by the court, like the original personal representative.