Estate planning can include a will, durable powers of attorney for health care and finances, an advance health care directive to physicians (living will), and anatomical gifts/burial instructions. We might also discuss other estate planning tools such as living trusts, community property agreements, joint tenancy, or other forms of non-probate property. We will conduct a thorough analysis of your needs and preferences, advise you regarding the different types of probate and non-probate estate planning tools, and draft a complete plan tailored to your particular situation.
In a brief consultation, we can estimate the costs of your estate planning. Having a complete plan will give you peace of mind, help reduce the costs of administering your estate, and make the process of distributing your property after you die easier and more efficient.
Our goal is to take the time to listen to you, and create a plan that protects your goals and values.
If you have minor children, a will allows you to nominate a Guardian for them in case both parents die. It also allows you to create a trust for them, so your assets will be distributed to them in the way that you choose. The court must honor a guardian nominated in a will, unless that person is unfit or unable to serve.
It is easy to see that many of these issues could cause arguments within a family, damaging relationships, or adding costly legal fees that would diminish your estate.
Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning
Simply, estate planning is the process for making a plan that dictates who you want to receive your assets when you die. However, estate planning is often not simple and, if done properly, creates a plan that encompasses far more that the distribution of your assets at your death.
Estate planning may also include:
- Executing durable power of attorney documents designating a trusted person to manage your affairs should you not be able to do so on your own;
- Providing guidance to your loved ones regarding your care choices should you become unable to express your wishes;
- Planning for the financial implications of future care needs including eligibility for Medicaid;
- Choosing who will administer your estate after your death;
- Planning for the needs of loved ones who have financial management difficulties;
- Planning for the protection of loved ones who are disabled or receiving need-based government benefits;
- Determining and creating a plan for how financial resources are to be used when you are part of a blended family;
- Planning for the disposition of your remains after you pass;
- Estate tax planning;
- Planning for financial needs and naming a guardian for minor children;
- Planning for the needs of pets when you pass;
- Establishing or creating a plan to accomplish charitable giving.
If you die without a Will (intestate), then state laws dictate who receives your assets which may lead to less than desirable results. Creating a Will or using other estate planning documents can ensure your individual wishes are followed and can also allow you to build in certain protections for minors, beneficiaries with special needs, or for a beneficiary who may be receiving government assistance.
An experienced estate planning attorney will talk with you about your assets, your goals, and your wishes for your estate and can make sure potential issues are adequately addressed. Using an estate planning attorney to make a Will is an expense, but it can help you avoid costly issues and potential family discord in the future. Because everyone’s familial and financial situation is different, a “simple will” or a “one will fits all” approach may not be sufficient to fulfill your goals or account for issues that may arise. Spending some money now to ensure your documents are properly drafted and executed may save thousands of dollars in future legal costs and prevent or minimize family conflict.
Just because Washington is a community property state does not mean your spouse automatically inherits all of your property at death. If you do not have a Will or other estate plan in place the state’s default laws, which treat community property and separate property differently, will apply. You can help ensure your spouse inherits all of your property by discussing a Will, a Community Property Agreement, or other estate planning documents with one of the lawyers at Northwest Elder Law Group.
There is not a one size fits all answer to this question. A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustor transfers assets into a trust for a trustee to manage for the benefit of a beneficiary. There are lots of different kinds of trusts depending on an individual’s needs or hopes for transferring wealth. For example, a trust may be a good option if you want to make a gift to a beneficiary who is a minor or who may lack the skills to manage their own finances. A trust can also be a good plan if you want to make a gift to a beneficiary who is already receiving or may receive needs-based government benefits in the future. If you own real estate in another state, a trust can be a helpful way to transfer that property to beneficiaries at your death without the need for probate in more than one state.
Given all the different kinds of trusts and the individualized reasons behind setting up a trust, it is important to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your goals for setting up a trust.
If your goal is to avoid probate, a trust can be one way to do so with careful planning. However, there are also several other estate planning tools available that can help you avoid probate. Based on your assets and goals, the lawyers at Northwest Elder Law Group can work with you to establish an estate plan to best fit your needs.
For more information about probate, click here.
While a Will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, a Will only has legal effect once you die. It is important to have estate planning documents in place to address periods where you may be temporarily or permanently incapacitated or unable to manage your own financial affairs or medical decision-making. Selecting an agent (and alternates) to act on your behalf under Durable Power of Attorney documents is an important aspect of any estate plan. A Power of Attorney can be tailored to your particular needs and wishes: you can have a limited Power of Attorney that is only effective for a limited time or purpose or you can have a Power of Attorney that is designed to allow your agent to stand in your shoes and act on your behalf in virtually all the ways you could act for yourself.
Without a Durable Power of Attorney in place, if you become incapacitated, a guardianship may have to be imposed by the court. A guardianship is a court process where a judge decides who should be in-charge of your affairs and make decisions on your behalf. Often, the expense of establishing a guardianship for your benefit will come out of your own assets and can be quite expensive. Executing Durable Power of Attorney documents is the best way to potentially avoid the expense and uncertainty of a guardianship.
Each of these documents can make up a complete plan for health care decisions and end-of-life care.
A Health Care Power of attorney is a document where you can designate an agent to make medical decisions for you and give informed consent on your behalf if you are unable to give that consent yourself.
An Advance Directive, also sometimes called a Living Will, is a document where you can express your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care, which gives your Health Care agent, your family, and your physician an understanding of your wishes when you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
The lawyers at Northwest Elder Law Group can help you put your wishes in place both for handling your health care decision making as well as for expressing your wishes for medical treatment.
Good estate planning documents should address different scenarios that may arise, but it is also important to review your existing estate planning every few years or whenever you have a big life event. A marriage or divorce, the birth of a child or grandchild, a move to a new state – all of these are good excuses to pull out your estate planning documents and make sure they still make sense in your life and accomplish your wishes.
Additionally, laws can change and new ways to carry out your wishes may be available. Contact Northwest Elder Law Group to have one of our attorneys review your current estate plan and ensure your goals are being met.
In order to best advise you on an estate plan that meets your goals, it is important for you to share complete and accurate information about your family, beneficiaries, assets, and goals and expected needs going forward. One good first step is thinking through and completing Northwest Elder Law Group’s Estate Planning Questionnaire. You should also gather information about your current assets and how they are held. The lawyers at Northwest Elder Law Group are here to answer your questions and make sure a plan is in place to honor your wishes, so be prepared to bring any questions you may have to your appointment with one of our lawyers.