The Death of an Intestate Ward
(Unusual & Arcane — Ignore If Not Relevant)
A person who is the subject of a guardianship proceeding is known as the guardian’s “ward.” Upon the death of the ward of a guardianship of the ward’s estate, the ward will become a Decedent, and the guardianship’s assets will become probate assets. Normally what is entailed in this situation is for the Guardian of the Estate to file with the Court a Report of Death of Ward & Petition for Termination of Guardianship & Approval of Final Account. Upon the Petition’s approval by the Court, the Guardian will then distribute the guardianship estate’s assets to the Decedent’s Personal Representative, who will have been appointed more or less contemporaneously. In many cases, the person serving as the ward’s Guardian will succeed as the Decedent’s Executor (if named Personal Representative in the Ward/Decedent’s Will) or as the Decedent’s Administrator (if the person is in highest priority according to the state statute). Procedurally, this may be accomplished in separate Petitions, one terminating the guardianship and the other appointing the Personal Representative (and offering any Will to probate) (which two Petitions may or may not be filed and heard simultaneously) or in one “omnibus” Petition.
B. Special Statute
Why this issue is being raised here is because Washington has a special statute effectively granting a dispensation to a Guardian of the Estate upon the death of his/her ward if the ward dies intestate. RCW 11.88.150(2) provides that upon such circumstance, the Guardian has the ongoing authority to administer the ward / Decedent’s estate under the Guardian’s existing Letters of Guardianship without having to petition the Court for further Letters unless within forty days after the ward / Decedent’s death, a Petition for Letters (either Testamentary or of Administration) is filed and approved. For every blessing, there is a curse, and here, however, in order to perfect this authority, the Guardian is required to file a Petition with the Court, electing to administer the estate under his/her Letters of Guardianship and requesting the Court for an Order transferring the guardianship proceeding to a probate proceeding having the same case number as the guardianship — so a Petition and a Court hearing remain unavoidable.
- You are a Guardian of an Estate,
- Your ward dies, and
- He/she dies intestate, …
then you may elect to serve as the ward/Decedent’s Personal Representative under your existing Letters of Guardianship so long as no Petition for Letters is timely brought. This saves you from bringing your own Petition for Letters (and possibly from paying another fee for a Bond) but costs you bringing a Petition for Approval to Transfer the Guardianship to a Probate Estate. Furthermore, instead of closing the probate estate by filing a Declaration of Completion of Probate as you normally would in a traditional probate with Nonintervention Powers, you will close the combined guardianship/probate estate by filing a Petition for Approval of Final Account, in which you request the Court to approve your account and distribution of the estate’s remaining assets to those persons entitled to them. Lastly, as Personal Representative, you won’t have Nonintervention Powers, so if you have any need for them, you’ll need to petition the Court for that as well (perhaps most easily done in your Petition for Approval to Transfer). All in all, this “special dispensation” isn’t as efficacious as it might initially appear.