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What happens when an executor passes away?

On Behalf of | Aug 8, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate |

In Washington state, testators create an estate plan that includes an executor. The executor is the person who manages the estate plan after the testator passes away. Sometimes, an executor passes away before the testator, or during the probate process.

When the executor passes away first

The testator can amend their will to name a new executor. If the executor passes away while the testator is still alive, it’s important to amend the will to name a new executor as soon as possible.

If the testator was unable to name a new executor in their will before they died, then the estate administration & probate decisions fall to the court. The court will need to designate a new executor, often someone else that was close to the testator.

There are a few reasons this is not the best-case scenario. For one, probate will take longer when the court has to name a new executor. Another issue is that the testator likely talked to their named executor to ensure their wishes were clear before passing. The individual the court names as the new executor will not have this information and will have to do their best with what they see in the will. This means it will take longer for the new executor to catch up and they will have a more difficult time following the testator’s wishes to the best of their understanding.

When the executor passes in the middle of probate

The estate administration & probate process can take anywhere from six months to a year, on average. There are cases where it takes longer than this. During this time, the executor of the will may pass away. It is then the responsibility of the court to name a new executor, who will need to pick up the process in the middle of proceedings. This is a big responsibility and will likely mean the probate process slows down considerably.

One way that testators can avoid these issues is by naming a secondary executor in their will. In the ideal situation, the alternate executor will never become involved. However, if the executor does pass away, the appointed alternate can step in. This person will ideally have knowledge of the testator’s wishes and be mentally prepared to handle the estate.