Estate Planning FAQs
When is the best time to start working with an attorney on estate planning matters?
Much of the time, estate planning is all about dealing with unexpected changes, such as death, disability, serious injury or hospitalization, and so on. If you know that one of these events is approaching, then by all means you should not delay in getting your estate planning affairs in order. But, of course, any of these changes can occur without warning, meaning it is never too early to start planning for how your dependents and loved ones should be cared for and where your assets should go.
What is the difference between a will and a trust?
As you probably know, a will determines how your assets are distributed upon your death, and can also dictate how debts and liabilities are to be paid. A trust is different than a will in that it places control over certain assets with a trustee, who will manage and distribute those assets for the benefit of your designated beneficiaries. This can occur during your life, upon your death, or both.
What is the purpose of a trust? Isn’t it just simpler to provide money directly?
There are many reasons to set up a trust for the purpose of your beneficiaries. By placing assets in a trust, you can put aside those assets for the security and care of those beneficiaries while providing protection from your creditors. You can also avoid the cost, hassle, and drama of probate following your death, as the assets in the trust will not be subject to probate. By placing assets in a trust, you can also dictate the terms by which the beneficiaries receive the assets (e.g. through a monthly or yearly stipend) and how the assets can be spent (e.g. for a college education) rather than giving the money to the beneficiaries in one lump sum directly and without conditions.
I already have a will, but I’d like to change it. What should I do?
Because circumstances change (e.g. new family members, new assets, etc.), Washington state law allows you to update your will or create a new will. If you would like to amend a previous will, we will work with you to draft a codicil which will update the previous will, or we can work with you to simply draft a new will, revoking the previous will.
I’m not sure if I have a will or not. What should I do?
If you’re not sure if you have a will, you can simply work with us to create a new will, which will revoke the previous will.
I’ve seen all these do-it-yourself will kits on TV and online. Do I even need a lawyer?
You can, of course, save a few bucks by attempting to do your own will, but you run a number of risks in doing so. If you fail to comply with the laws of Washington in executing the will, it may not be effective and the courts may not enter the will into probate. You may also fail to understand the implications of taxes on your estate and other laws that affect how your estate is distributed. You may also fail to be thorough or specific in how you draft the will, leading to probate battles among your family members after your death. Finally, the time it takes you to understand and complete a will on your own may end up cancelling out the few dollars you save. Given what’s at stake in distributing your lifetime estate, working with a lawyer is advised.
What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without a will, your assets will go into probate, and the courts will distribute your assets based on the rules of intestacy set in place by the Washington legislature. Even if you had promised gifts to your family and loved ones outside of a will, the court may not take such promises into consideration when distributing your assets per the rules of intestacy.
What exactly is a Power of Attorney and why do I need one?
A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person the ability to make certain decisions on your behalf. These can be decisions regarding your finances, your medical care, or other matters. Many people decide to place a power of attorney with a trusted friend or family member when they know they are facing serious medical issues or simply do not have the ability to handle their affairs as they once did, whether it be due to age, disability, or other issues. By choosing the person you would like to have handle your affairs, you avoid having the courts or others making those decisions for you.