Dealing with the administration of someone’s estate can be a pretty complicated job, and it’s often time-consuming and emotionally taxing.
It’s not unreasonable (or even unusual) for an estate’s personal representative to receive compensation for their services. If you’re making your estate plans or have been asked to serve as someone’s personal representative, here’s what you need to know about how the issue of compensation works in Washington.
An amount can be stipulated by the testator
One possible way of handling the issue is to provide for the personal representative’s fee in the actual will. Washington’s statute is vague on exactly how much payment is “just and reasonable,” (with or without directions in the will), but many testators use a percentage of the estate, based on the estate’s value.
For example, a testator could allocate 5% of an estate valued at less than $100,000 to the personal representative’s fee, 4% if the estate is between $100,000 and $300,000, and 3% for an estate valued between $300,000 and $1,000,000 and so on.
It can be left in the hands of the court
If a personal representative renounces the claim for compensation or a testator fails to stipulate how much compensation they should receive, then the court will default to the “just and reasonable” standard.
Since that is not clearly defined, it’s important for a personal representative to keep track of all their expenses and efforts. That means keeping all records for things like:
- Costs related to maintaining the testator’s property, such as utilities and repairs
- Professional fees for appraisers, accountants and attorneys
- Postage for mailing documents or obtaining death certificates
- Travel costs for meetings and court appearances, including tickets and hotels
- Lost wages due to any personal leave that has to be taken to handle the estate
It is also to keep track of the hours spent in service of the estate administration process because a personal representative’s time also has value.
Sometimes, disputes arise over what a “reasonable” expense is and whether a particular effort or concern is really necessary for the proper handling of an estate. That can put a personal representative at odds with beneficiaries and heirs. When that happens, seeking legal guidance may be necessary to resolve the issue.