Jennifer C. Rydberg, Attorney at Law
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Kent Estate Administration and Probate Law Blog

What does the probate process look like in Washington?

The word "probate: usually invokes horror stories from Washington residents. But, the truth is probate is not as bad as some would lead you to believe. For this reason, knowing the probate process may be helpful to ease the fears in families.

There are several steps a person needs to take when going through the probate process in Washington. First, a petition is filed in court that states the will is the official will of the deceased. The personal representative of the estate will also need to sign a sworn oath. Once a person has been assigned personal representative of the estate they will need to give notice to everyone named in the will and any heirs. The Department of Social and Health Services will also need to be notified and they will determine if the deceased owes any back child support. The deceased assets will then need to be reviewed. This will include all assets, including investments, bank accounts, real estate, bonds, and insurance policies. Safe deposit boxes should also be analyzed, and there may be benefits from the Veterans Administration, Social Security Administration, and pensions that should be applied for.

The importance of sharing an estate plan

Estate planning is one of the most important legal things a Kent-area family can do. When a person takes the time to create an estate plan they are leaving a gift for the family when the individual passes away. Because of this planning ahead, the family will know their loved one's wishes, and their assets will be protected.

Money issues are often hard to talk about with family. They are personal matters that people like to keep private. Although it can be hard to share information with family regarding estate planning, it is important. Putting off the discussion regarding the estate plan can be a mistake, as it may lead to family strife. Sharing an estate plan can help a family learn why they will receive what the estate owner planned for them. If a beneficiary believes they are not getting a fair cut of the estate, then they can talk with the grantor and learn why the estate is being divided in that way. If a beneficiary doesn't find out until after their loved one dies, a family struggle can ensue. A person can also create a family values statement to share why they divided their estate in such a way, which can help with any kind of trust dispute after they have passed.

Mistakes were made with Philip Seymour Hoffman's estate planning

Estate planning is sometimes the last thing Kent residents think about. After all, who wants to think about their death? It definitely is not a popular topic, but it is incredibly important. What happens to a person's lifetime of savings in the event of an individual's death is something that should be thoroughly and frequently analyzed. Philip Seymour Hoffman's estate planning is an example of how mistakes can be made.

Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away in 2014, leaving his entire $35 million estate to his girlfriend and their three young children. Because they were not married, approximately $12 million of that estate went to estate taxes. His will also stipulated that his children were to use his estate money to visit major metropolitan areas in order to gain appreciation for the arts. Because he used a will for his estate planning, it had to go through probate, which is resulting in additional costs and delays. There may also be additional costs for the children who may need to go to court every two years until they turn 18. At the age of 18 they receive the rest of their funds, which may not be a good idea for an 18 year old.

Common estate planning myths

Many people in the Kent area have not completed an estate plan. This is common among many families for various reasons, but for almost everyone, there are benefits to having an estate plan. So what are some common myths about estate planning?

One of the most common estate planning myths is that they're only for the wealthy. When estate disputes are mentioned in the media it is often as the result of families disputing a rich and famous loved one's estate. But, estate planning is valuable for everyone, regardless of income. It can help people transfer property to their intended beneficiaries, ensure their health care desires are followed, and keep family assets within the family in the event of a divorce.

Don't make mistakes with health care directives

Estate planning is an important process for Kent area residents. It is also about more than protecting a family's assets. Healthcare directives are important in making sure a person's health care wishes are followed when they are not able to communicate. But there are mistakes that can be made when creating healthcare directives.

One mistake that can be made when working through healthcare directives is just completing a form without having the important conversation with loved ones and healthcare workers regarding the decisions that are being made. Healthcare directives should include more meaningful information, such as values and beliefs, what quality of life means, medical treatment guidelines and boundaries and needs for spiritual and emotional support. A person should include what healthcare they want to receive as well as what they don't want to receive. It is also important for a person to think through who they are appointing as their healthcare agent. The first choice of spouse or child may not be the best. A family meeting should also be held so that the person can share their wishes before they are unable to communicate. The completed healthcare directive should be kept in a safe place that is quickly and easily accessible in the event of an emergency. It should also be reevaluated every five years or so. Also, people of all ages should complete a healthcare directive. It's not just for older adults as anyone can suffer from a medical emergency where they are not able to make decisions about their healthcare.

Living trusts

Most Kent area residents have heard the term living trusts but may have questions regarding what they are and who can benefit from them. Estate planning encompasses many different types of documents and solutions for every family. Estate planning is there to help protect a family's assets, their families and their futures.

A living trust is a popular estate planning solution. A living trust can help a family avoid probate and assets can be passed down to designated family members instead of being used for nursing homes, divorce costs, lawsuits, creditors, etc. A person who has a family member with special needs may also find a living trust beneficial as the special need person would still get the benefit of the trust without it affecting their social security and other government benefits.

What are some immediate estate planning tasks one can take?

Estate planning can help avoid litigation and other headaches for heirs in Washington. A well-drafted will helps prevent confusion and the expense and inconvenience of fights over probate or inheritance issues. Other documents should also be drafted for effective planning.

A living will express wishes and guidance for life-prolonging medical care. A durable medical power of attorney also provides authorization to another party to make important medical decisions such as these end-of-life-decisions when a person has an incapacity.

Same-sex couples have unique estate planning issues

Estate planning is important for all couples. However, same-sex couples in Washington and throughout the country face unique issues with regards to drafting a will and other estate issues that should be addressed.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in the entire nation. Before then, same-sex couples may have been married in a state that recognized these marriages and then move to a state which did not. Some states also converted civil unions or domestic partnerships into valid marriages. Accordingly, couples should first ascertain the legal status of their relationship, which can determine whether property automatically passes to the surviving spouse when the other spouse dies.

How does a pet trust work?

Many Washington residents choose to set up a trust as part of their estate plan, so that their heirs have financial security after the grantor passes away. However, some of the most dependent and beloved members of a person's family are the person's pets. Therefore, it is also important to make sure one's pets are taken care of by setting up a pet trust.

A pet trust is created for the care of one or more animals owned by the grantor. The animals must be identified individually or in a way that they can be easily identified.

Estate planning for couples without children

Families have changed and more couples in Kent have decided not to have children. This presents new issues for estate planning because, among other things, these couples tend to have more education and higher incomes. Childless couples will save the estimated $233,000 cost of raising, without college tuition, a child who was born in 2015.

Designation of guardians for younger children or setting up trusts are not a concern for these couples. However, they need to begin planning for other important matters.

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