Redmond Estate Planning Attorneys
How Estate Planning Works in Washington State
It can be challenging to think about how your death might impact your family members and loved ones. The desire to avoid that train of thought may explain why only 36% of US adults with children under the age of 18 have a will or living trust.
Unfortunately, we all die sooner or later. Drawing up a comprehensive will or living trust and estate planning ahead of time enables you to ensure your estate is handled properly after you die.
At O'Brian & Associates, our Redmon estate planning attorneys can help you make sure your estate is taken care of in your absence.
What Is Estate Planning, Exactly?
When most people hear the word "estate," they think of a palatial house on a large plot of land. In truth, the term "estate" applies to the following:
- Any bank accounts you may have
- Investments you've made
- Property such as houses or other real estate you own
- Cars or other vehicles in your possession
- Insurance policies such as life insurance that guarantee a payout if you die
- Any personal belongings you have
Your estate is more than just real estate—it practically covers everything you own.
Estate planning is the act of working with an estate planning attorney to determine exactly how your estate will be taken care of in the event of your death. Common steps involved in the estate planning process are the drawing of a living will and a last will and testament.
What Is a Living Will?
Living wills are documents that allow you to dictate your end-of-life preferences. For example, if you would prefer to be removed from life support in the event of becoming brain dead, you can include that detail in your living will. On the other hand, if you would prefer all possible actions are taken to save your life in the event of an accident, you can include that, too.
Washington state has exceptionally strong durable power of attorney laws, which make estate planning in Washington easier than in other states. Durable power of attorney is a legally binding agreement in which an individual appoints an agent to make decisions on their behalf.
Agents operating under durable power of attorney play a key role in living wills. It's the agent's job to make sure your living will is adhered to. For example, Washington state durable power of attorney laws protect physicians who follow end-of-life directives provided by agents, such as removing an individual from life support.
Technically, you don't have to work with an estate planning lawyer to enact durable power of attorney and appoint an agent. However, working with an estate planning attorney is recommended since they can help you fully understand the legal ramifications of decisions you make while drafting your living will and last will and testament.
What Is a Last Will and Testament?
Last wills and testaments act as the pillar of your estate plan. Your last will and testament details exactly how your estate should be divided among beneficiaries (individuals who inherit something from you) at the time of your death.
There are a few requirements for drawing up a last will and testament:
- You must be over 18 and capable of making independent decisions.
- You need to sign the will (or have someone else sign it on your behalf).
- You need at least two witnesses (who will not receive anything from the will) to witness you signing the will. The witnesses must then also sign the will.
- The will should be typed out by an estate planning lawyer as a legally binding document. Holographic (hand-written) and nuncupative (oral) wills are limited in capacity and often hold no real legal power.
When you die, your agent and estate planning attorney (in the event they're not the same person) will work with your beneficiaries to allocate your estate according to the specifications of your will.
It's important to note that even though Washington state doesn't have an inheritance tax, taxes on your estate might still affect your beneficiaries. Working with a reputable estate planning attorney can help you notify beneficiaries of potential taxes they may owe as a result of your will or make your estate tax-exempt for beneficiaries.
What Happens if I Die Without a Will?
If you die without a will, Washington state will appoint an administrator to distribute your estate among beneficiaries as per state succession laws. Succession laws dictate how your assets are divided.
For example, Washington state succession laws specify that a surviving spouse or domestic partner receives all of a decedent's (the deceased individual's) share of the net community estate in the event they die without a will.
In many cases, dying without a will puts an incredible amount of stress on decedents' families, particularly if family members or loved ones disagree with how state succession laws divide an estate. Working with an estate planning lawyer allows you to ensure your estate is divided fairly among beneficiaries without causing inter-family conflict and tension.
Contact a Redmond Estate Planning Lawyer Today
At O'Brian & Associates, our compassionate, knowledgeable Redmond estate planning lawyers can work with you to draft a comprehensive living will and last will and testament. To receive a consultation from our legal team, contact us online or via phone at (425) 276-7677.
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