Appointing a Special Administrator

  1. Nature of Special Administrator
  2. Purpose of Special Administrator
  3. Qualifications of Special Administrator
  4. Proof Required for Appointment of Special Administrator
  5. Bond of Special Administrator
  6. Nonintervention Powers of Special Administrator
  7. Eventual Appointment of Personal Representative
  8. Debts and Creditors
  9. Opening Descendant’s Safety Deposit Box to Obtain Descendant’s Will

Problem: If any official action regarding Descendant’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.

Nature of Special Administrator

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

Purpose of Special Administrator

The appointment of a Special Administrator may be necessary for reasons as innocuous as obtaining authority to:

  • Open Descendant’s safe deposit box in order to search for his/her Will — see below;
  • Execute time-sensitive documents on Descendant’s behalf, such as option contracts or Deeds, conveyances, or closing statements;
  • Collect and preserve Descendant’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 Descendant’s estate; …

or as serious as obtaining authority to collect and preserve Descendant’s property in any of the following circumstances:

  • Descendant’s Will itself can’t be found;
  • Descendant’s Will is available but not "self proving," and its witnesses can’t be found;
  • A contest has been filed over who should be appointed as Descendant’s Personal Representative; or
  • A contest has been filed over the validity of Descendant’s purported Will.

Qualifications of Special Administrator

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:

  • Was appointed,
  • Lost at trial in a Will Contest brought by Descendant’s surviving wife, and
  • Appealed the trial Court’s decision.

Descendant’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 Descendant’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.

Proof Required in Petition for Appointment of Special Administrator

Besides the usual basic proof requirements, such as showing jurisdictional facts and any Will, King County requires that the following also be shown:

  1. The necessity for the appointment;
  2. The qualifications of the proposed Special Administrator;
  3. The tasks to be performed;
  4. The proposed duration of the appointment; and
  5. The proposed date for the Court to review the file (following the appointment).

2003 King County Probate Policy & Procedure Manual, § 3.6.2.

Bond of Special Administrator

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

Nonintervention Powers of Special Administrator

A Special Administrator is not eligible to be granted Nonintervention Powers.

Eventual Appointment of Personal Representative

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 Representative (RCW11.32.040);
  • File with the Court a Report & Account of Special Administrator of his/her actions (RCW11.32.060), and
  • 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.

Debts and Creditors

Although under RCW 11.32.030 a Special Administrator has authority for dealing with Descendant’s debts, Descendant’s creditors cannot maintain a lawsuit against a Special Administrator, only the Personal Representative. RCW 11.32.050

Opening Descendant’s Safety Deposit Box to Obtain Descendant’s Will

As discussed in Is a Probate Necessary? and Gaining Access to a Safety Deposit Box, if:

  • Descendant’s Will is in his/her safety box,
  • Descendant’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 Descendant’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

Petition for Order to Open Safety Box & Release Will form
and
Order Directing Bank to Open Safety Box & Release Will

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 Descendant 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 Descendant).  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 Descendant’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 Descendant 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 Descendant 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.