Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning And Probate
The attorneys of Cogdill Nichols Rein Wartelle Andrews (CNRWA) have years of experience with all facets of Washington estate law. Below are some of the most questions and concerns on the minds of new clients. For answers to your specific situation, please call our Everett law office at 425-247-3984 to schedule a consultation.
Do we need an estate plan if we’re not wealthy?
You probably have more assets than you realize, but you do not have to be a multi-millionaire to benefit from an estate plan. Estate planning arranges for the orderly transfer of your assets to your intended heirs. It can help avoid probate and family disputes. It can minimize taxation. It puts your wishes in writing. An estate plan does not need to be complex. It only needs to be well-written.
At what age should we start estate planning?
Don’t wait until the verge of retirement. In fact, we regularly provide estate planning for younger clients. For example, if your spouse died suddenly, who would their assets go to? if both of you were killed in a crash, who would take over care of your children? A basic estate plan should be set up early and updated after major life events (children, remarriage, starting a business).
What happens to my estate if I die without a will?
When a person dies with no last will and testament on record, their estate is divided according to Washington’s intestacy laws. Spouses and children have “first dibs” under the law, but siblings and parents, and even grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins could inherit under various scenarios. It can get complicated, resulting in family disputes and unintended people inheriting shares of your estate. Drafting a will allows you to decide who will — and who won’t — inherit.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal processing of your personal estate when you pass. A probate court verifies that the will is valid and supervises the administration of the estate. If you designated an executor, that person will be in charge of taking inventory, paying debts and distributing the assets. If you did not name an executor, the court will appoint one. If you die without a will, the court will divide your estate according to Washington law. Any challenges to the will are heard in probate court.
What is a trust? Do I need one?
A trust is a special account that sets aside assets on behalf of someone else. Assets in trusts are not subject to probate – they pass directly to the beneficiaries. Different types of trusts serve different purposes – wealth preservation, tax planning, charitable giving, special needs care.
What are “powers of attorney?”
Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with attorneys. Durable power of attorney is an instrument that authorizes an individual of your choosing to act in your place should you become unable to manage your own financial and business matters. It could be a spouse, a sibling, an adult child or a trusted friend. Power of attorney can as broad or as limited as you wish. You can also designate a power of attorney for health care decisions.
What is a health care directive?
A health care directive is also known as a “living will.” This document describe how you would wish to be treated in certain medical situations, such as a coma or heart failure. It is a directive to medical providers as well as guidance to your loved ones. Living wills can express your plan for being kept alive via artificial means or appoint someone to make those decision on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated.
Can I create my own estate plan?
If you do not have a large estate, you may be considering drafting your own will, health care directive or durable power of attorney. These are documents that every adult should have in place, but we advise against the do-it-yourself approach. Our lawyers have seen difficult situations where a document was ambiguous or lacking essential elements, leaving the estate at risk. When self-prepared estate planning documents are deficient in some respect, litigation often ensues. It is in your best interests to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer who can ensure your documents are valid and your interests are protected.
To discuss estate planning, estate administration and probate representation in more detail, please contact CNRWA today to arrange a consultation. We welcome clients from all walks of life in the greater Seattle area and across Washington.