Washington law permits the personal representative to efficiently administer an estate. In return, he or she must give notices to each of the heirs and beneficiaries. Heirs and beneficiaries who are under the age of 18 are presumed to be incapacitated and cannot look after their own interests. They cannot receive the notices and fairly evaluate whether they need to hire an attorney to help them. Therefore, the court is required by law to appoint a probate guardian ad litem (also known as a “probate GAL”) for the child. RCW 11.76.080. The probate GAL is appointed to look after the interests of the child. The probate GAL is required to report back to the court to approve any distributions for the minor and to report any irregularities.
The court is also required to appoint a probate GAL for mentally impaired adults. This is not as common as minor beneficiaries because typically a mentally impaired adult already has a court-appointed legal guardian who can receive notices and legal documents from the estate administrator. If, however, you believe that there is an adult heir or beneficiary that is mentally impaired and does not already have a guardian, you should alert the Commissioner to this during the initial hearing and ask that a probate GAL be appointed.
Who will be the probate GAL?
The probate GAL will be an attorney who is familiar with probate law in King County. It is usually a person who the Commissioner if familiar with and believes will do a fair job protecting the interests of the minor or disabled adult. There is no formal list of probate GALs in King County. The court will not appoint the parent to this position.
What Order will the court use?
In King County, the Ex Parte Department prefers to use a special form it has created to appoint the GAL. A sample Order Appointing Probate Guardian ad Litem can be found here (PDF) (Word). If an attorney represents you at the initial hearing, that attorney may already have names to propose as the probate GAL. If you are not represented by an attorney, you will not be expected to have any proposed GALs in mind. In those cases, the Ex Parte Commissioner will name a person to serve. It is preferred that you come to the initial hearing with an Order Appointing Probate GAL ready, but it is not required.
For certain estates, the appointment of a full probate guardian ad litem may seem unnecessary. This can be the case when the estate is small, or when a will names a minor as a beneficiary, but the minor’s share of the estate is passing to a trust. In such cases, the court has an order it uses to appoint a probate guardian ad litem with limited powers to investigate certain narrow issues. A sample of such an Order Appointing a Limited Probate Guardian ad Litem can be found here (PDF) (Word).