America’s nickname is The Land of Opportunity, a place where anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve their goals, including amassing material wealth – money, real estate, personal property and any other assets. But what happens to those assets – your estate – when you pass away?
Talking about this topic can be difficult, but important. However, in order to protect your legacy and make sure your wishes are fulfilled, planning what happens after you’re gone is crucial.
What does “Estate Planning” mean?
Estate planning is establishing a formal, legal plan in the event of a crisis, incapacity, or death. You may wish your surviving family members or other loved ones to inherit all or part of your estate. Or perhaps you have a soft spot for a public charity or a private foundation and would like to set up a trust to ensure that they have the resources to continue their work. Creating a set of legal estate planning documents that spell out your exact plans will ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. Having a formal estate plan can provide peace of mind ensuring your assets go to whom you want. Your loved ones won’t have to navigate through the complexities of the legal process, and instead can focus on grieving and healing.
Washington Estate Planning Laws
Every state, including Washington, has its own unique laws regarding estate planning and inheritance. For example, Washington has its own estate tax, which is separate from the federal estate tax, and it’s one of the highest in the nation. Furthermore, Washington is one of only nine “community property states,” which adds another layer of complexity.
What Should a Basic Estate Plan Include?
A person who creates a will or leaves a legacy is called a “testator.” As a testator, you will want your basic estate plan to include the following:
- A will: Your will is a legal document that details how you want your property to be distributed after your death. A carefully-worded will ensures that your wishes are met by clarifying who inherits your assets. This clarification prevents estranged relatives and others from claiming a share of your estate, and it streamlines the process for your heirs so they can access your estate without difficulty. Even more important, a will outlines who will care for your minor children, should you become incapacitated or die. If you don’t specify who will take custody of your children, then the state will decide for you, a situation you should avoid by having your affairs in order.
- Durable Power of Attorney: If you become unable to make financial or other life decisions for yourself, you’ll need a proxy to act on your behalf. Durable Power of attorney (DPOA) assigns legal powers to a representative of your choosing, someone you trust to act on your behalf. The Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act, RCW 11.125 is a statute that went into effect on January 1, 2017; it provides new safeguards, such as requiring that the document be signed in the presence of a Notary Public or two witnesses.
- End-of-life medical care: End-of-life decisions are often among the most difficult we face. If you become seriously ill or incapacitated, you’ll want your loved ones to know your wishes about medical care in advance. To avoid a situation in which your family or medical team is forced to guess your treatment preferences, you’ll need a living will, also called a health care directive or advanced directive, that states exactly what medical care you want – or don’t want. Your health care directive should include a Medical Power of Attorney, which names who you want to act as your health care agent if you are unable.
- Revocable Living Trust: A revocable living trust is a legal document that allows a designated person – a trustee – the ability to manage your assets in the event you are unable. While you’re still living, you can be your own trustee, or you can assign someone else to manage your assets. Once you pass, your trust will be managed by one or more trustees whom you have named in the trust. The advantage of a revocable living trust is that it can be changed over time and avoids probate. Probate is the legal process through which the courts oversees the payment of debts and that the correct beneficiaries inherit the remaining assets. Probate often takes six months to a year to complete; a properly-worded revocable living trust can save your heirs the time and money of going through probate.
How Much Does Estate Planning Cost in Washington State?
There are two types of fees you need to consider when planning your estate:
- Probate fees: Probate has fixed costs and potential costs. One fixed cost in Washington State is the Superior Court probate filing fee, which is currently between $200-300. Another fixed cost is the probate Notice to Creditors, which is approximately $100-200. Potential costs include attorney fees, appraisers, and accountants.
- Attorney fees: Attorneys typically charge by the hour. The cost will vary by attorney so you’ll want to do your research.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will in WA?
When someone passes away without a will, it is termed dying intestate. When this occurs, the person’s estate goes through probate and a judge determines who inherits the estate and how specific assets are to be distributed. Washington State’s RCW 11.04.015, the Descent and distribution of real and personal estate, details the specific order of distribution of assets.
Why Should You Be Concerned About Estate Planning?
Estate planning is crucial for you to maintain control of your assets and to be able to decide where your assets go after you pass away. It is also important to make your own end-of-life decisions. If you don’t plan for the future, you will eventually lose the ability to choose what happens to you and your assets. A well-drafted legal estate plan gives you peace of mind knowing that your loved ones won’t be forced to guess your final wishes should you become incapacitated. It also directs your heirs to receive the estate you’ve worked so hard to build. You don’t need to be wealthy to have an estate plan – everyone needs to prepare for the future.
Get Help From a Knowledgeable Eastern Washington Estate Planning Attorney Today
At Evergreen Elder Law, we help seniors, veterans, and their spouses to protect their loved ones with carefully drafted estate plans. Reach out to us for help with estate planning, wills and trusts, probate, veterans’ benefits, special needs planning, long-term care planning, Medicaid, and more. For a free consultation with a skilled estate planning lawyer, contact us today or call us at (509) 325-5222. We offer estate planning services in Washington state with offices in Spokane and Tri Cities.