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WA-Probate > Probate Instructions > Opening the Estate > Appointing a Special Administrator
Nature of Special Administrator
Purpose of Special Administrator
Qualifications of Special Administrator
Proof Required for Appointment of Special Administrator
Bond of Special Administrator
Nonintervention Powers of Special Administrator
Eventual Appointment of Personal Representative
Debts and Creditors
Opening Decedent's Safety Deposit Box to Obtain Decedent's Will
Problem: If any official action regarding Decedent's estate needs to be taken before a Personal Representative can be appointed, a Special Administrator may need to be appointed in order to obtain the authority to take such action. See RCW 11.32.010.
A Special Administrator is a person:
Usually appointed to take specific expressed actions before the appointment of
the Personal Representative, or
Occasionally appointed to act generally as a Personal Representative but with restricted statutory authority. RCW 11.32.030
The appointment of a Special Administrator may be necessary for reasons as innocuous as obtaining authority to:
Open Decedent's safe
deposit box in order to search for his/her Will --- see below;
time-sensitive documents on Decedent's behalf, such as option contracts or
Deeds, conveyances, or closing statements;
Collect and preserve
Decedent's property, especially if the property is subject to imminent risk,
such as its being stored subject to likely loss or damage; or
Sell any perishable property believed to be in Decedent's estate; ...
or as serious as obtaining authority to collect and preserve Decedent's property in any of the following circumstances:
itself can't be found;
available but not "self proving," and its witnesses can't be found;
A contest has been
filed over who should be appointed as Decedent's Personal Representative; or
A contest has been filed over the validity of Decedent's purported Will.
RCW 11.32.010 provides for no specific qualifications for a Special Administrator except than he/she shall be "other than one of the parties." Presumably, a Special Administrator is required to have all the qualifications of a Personal Representative under RCW 11.36.010.
Regarding the "other than one of the parties" issue, the only Washington case on point is Hartley v. Lord, 38 Wash. 432 (1905). There, an Executor:
trial in a Will Contest brought by Decedent's surviving wife, and
Appealed the trial Court's decision.
Decedent's surviving wife then petitioned for appointment of another as Special Administrator during the pendency of the appeal. The Court appointed the Executor as Special Administrator, and the wife appealed that decision. Held: During the pendency of a Will Contest, the Executor is "one of the parties" and, as such, is ineligible from serving as Special Administrator.
Whether a nominated but not yet appointed Personal Representative is "one of the parties" remains to be determined. If so, then he/she would be ineligible to be appointed as Special Administrator. On the one hand, it would appear as if Decedent's named Personal Representative would be the logical choice to serve in the absence of any contest involving him/her or the Will in which he/she is named. On the other hand, if the named Personal Representative were appointed Special Administrator and later were appointed Personal Representative, then no one would be available to object to the Special Administrator's accounting to the Court upon the end of special administration and transfer of assets and liabilities to the Personal Representative.
King County appears to take the position that the "other than one of the parties" issue disqualifies only a person who is a party to a Will Contest in the matter. 2003 King County Probate Policy & Procedure Manual, § 3.6.1.
D. Proof Required in Petition for Appointment of Special Administrator ñ
Besides the usual basic proof requirements, such as showing jurisdictional facts and any Will, King County requires that the following also be shown:
necessity for the appointment;
qualifications of the proposed Special Administrator;
to be performed;
proposed duration of the appointment; and
The proposed date for the Court to review the file (following the appointment).
2003 King County Probate Policy & Procedure Manual, § 3.6.2.
An appointed Special Administrator (other than a bank or trust company) is required to post Bond in an amount determined by the Court before Letters of Special Administration may be issued. RCW 11.32.020
A Special Administrator is not eligible to be granted Nonintervention Powers.
Upon the eventual appointment of the Personal Representative, the Special Administrator is required to:
Turn over all assets and liabilities of the estate to the Personal
the Court a
Report & Account of Special Administrator of his/her actions (RCW
Upon the Court's approval of the Report & Account, be discharged by the Court, which discharge will also discharge the bonding company. 2003 King County Probate Policy & Procedure Manual, § 3.6.4.
Although under RCW 11.32.030 a Special Administrator has authority for dealing with Decedent's debts, Decedent's creditors cannot maintain a lawsuit against a Special Administrator, only the Personal Representative. RCW 11.32.050
As discussed in Is a Probate Necessary? and Gaining Access to a Safety Deposit Box, if:
Decedent's Will is in his/her safety box,
Decedent's safety box is in his/her name alone, and
The bank insists on your obtaining Letters to allow you access to the box, ...
then you may need to open a probate to obtain the Letters to gain access to the box to get Decedent's Will. As in most situations, there is a simple and a not so simple way of accomplishing this. If you are in King County, there is a really simple way: Petitioning the Court for an Order granting you access to the box without having to actually file a Petition for Letters, as either Personal Representative or Special Administrator. See King County LR 98.04(d) and
If, however, you are in a county that does not allow such a Petition and Order, then you have two choices:
The Not So Simple Solution: File a
Petition for Appointment of Special Administrator, as described above.
The Simple Solution: File a Petition
for Appointment of Administrator & Nonintervention Powers, alleging that
Decedent died without a valid Will (on the basis that you don't
know for sure that the safety box does in fact contain a truly valid Will
for Decedent). This avoids the appointment of a Special Administrator,
including among other things posting a Special Administrator's Bond. Then,
upon obtaining your Letters of Administration, your first act will
be accessing Decedent's safety box:
If no Will is there, you simply go on
about your business as Administrator of the Estate.
If you do find a valid Will, then:
If the Will nominates you as Personal
Representative, you promptly file it and a Petition for Probate &
Nonintervention Powers, informing the Court that you have now found a
Will for Decedent and asking the Court to admit the Will
to probate and issue you new Letters Testamentary.
If the Will nominates another as Personal Representative, you promptly deliver the Will to the nominee and let him/her file it and a Petition for Probate & Nonintervention Powers, informing the Court that a Will for Decedent has been found and asking the Court to admit the Will to probate, revoke your Letters of Administration, and issue him/her new Letters Testamentary.