A Will, also known as a “Last Will and Testament,” controls what happens to the majority of your property after your death. In a Will, you designate the people you want to perform important family and financial tasks after your death. Your Will may include planning for federal and state estate taxes. Your Will is revocable and/or amendable at any time as long as you demonstrate that you have the capacity to sign the document. If you die without a Will, Washington State law determines who will receive your property.
A Power of Attorney (“POA”) allows you to grant certain specific powers to a designated person known as an attorney-in-fact to act if you are unable or do not wish to act on your own behalf. In a POA, an individual grants an attorney-in-fact specific or broad powers that he or she deems appropriate. For example, you may grant the attorney-in-fact the authority to manage your financial affairs, make decisions regarding your medical care, arrange for your acute and long term care, and make other important decisions for you. A POA may be made effective upon signing, or effective upon disability. A POA can be revoked as long as you are not found to be incapacitated by a court of law.
A Community Property Agreement is a contract that transfers all of the community and separate property of one spouse to the surviving spouse, avoiding probate. However; it does not take the place of a Will and should only be used in certain specialized situations.
If you are ready to write a will or living will, need a power of attorney or directive to physicians drawn up, please contact our office.
Probate is a process by which a will of a deceased person is proved to be valid, such that their property can be transferred to beneficiaries of the will. As with any legal proceeding, there are technical aspects to probate administration:
- Creditors need to be notified and legal notices published.
- Executors of the Will need to be guided in how and when to distribute assets and how to take creditors' rights into account.
- A Petition to appoint a personal representative may need to be filed and Letters of Administration obtained.
- Homestead property, which follows its own set of unique rules in states like Florida, must be dealt with separately from other assets. In Washington, jointly owned property with right of survivorship will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner separately from any will, unless the equitable title is held as tenants in common.
- There are time factors involved in filing and objecting to claims against the estate.
- There may be a lawsuit pending over the decedent's death or there may have been pending suits that are now continuing. There may be separate procedures required in contentious probate cases.
- Real estate or other property may need to be sold to effect correct distribution of assets pursuant to the will or merely to pay debts.
- Estate taxes, gift taxes or inheritance taxes must be considered if the estate exceeds certain thresholds.
- Costs of the administration including ordinary taxation such as income tax on interest and property taxation will be deducted from assets in the estate before distribution by the executors of the will.
- Other assets may simply need to be transferred from the deceased to his or her beneficiaries.
Sometimes with a small estate a probate may prove to be unnecessary.
The probate process can be complex as there are many steps in the administration of a probate. Our office compassionately handles large and small estates. We are here to help guide the family through this troubling time.