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

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.

What is Washington's Death with Dignity Act?

Washington law provides a mechanism for helping to assure that one's end-of-life wishes are followed. The state's Death with Dignity Act allows adults with terminal illnesses, with less than six months left to live, to ask their doctor to provide them with medication that they will self-administer to end their life.

In order to receive such medication, a person must meet certain conditions. In order to qualify for this medication, a person must be a resident of the state, a competent adult and be afflicted with a fatal disease that will cause them to die within six months.

What is estate administration?

After a person dies, a probate court in Washington appoints a legal representative for the person who died and their estate. The representative, or estate administrator, has numerous duties including the collection of all the decedent's assets, the payment of the deceased's creditors and the distribution of the deceased's remaining property and assets to their heirs and other beneficiaries.

The estate administrator is usually the surviving spouse, another family member, an executor who was identified in the person's will or a lawyer. The probate court will appoint an administrator if the decedent did not identify one in their will.

Long term care: preparing for the inevitable

The end of life and how people die has changed greatly. Because of medical advances, many people in Washington seek the guidance of doctors who can treat the injury or illness the person is suffering from, leading to a longer lifespan. This has made planning for the future and end-of life-issues more complicated and important to deal with.

A power of attorney and a living will are important documents for any person's age. A power of attorney authorizes a person to make decisions once they incapacitated. Different but trusted people may be authorized to deal with financial and medical care.

How is a guardian in Washington selected?

In Washington, guardianships are a legal means of assuring the protection and well-being of a person who cannot make decisions because of their functional limitations. Laws govern this position of trust, which can be exercised by one or more individuals.

A guardian manages the affairs of person who is incapacitated by a disability such as mental illness or deterioration or physical or development disability who are unable to make routine decisions or who can harm themselves by making these decisions. After the filing of a petition and a hearing, courts appoint guardians to assume the rights of the incapacitated person to make decisions about their daily life in the best interests of that person.

Wills of the digital age

There are many reasons why Washington residents may have put off executing a will. Facing one's death is not always easy, and making decisions on the distribution of property to specific heirs can also be difficult. In addition, in many jurisdictions drafting a will has not kept up with technology. In fact, a high number of American who do not have wills. According to a Princeton Survey Research Associates survey in January 2017, 58 percent of adults in this country do not have a will.

Electronic wills are one of several technological developments that could come to estate planning. Nevada has allowed these wills while Florida is considering legislation governing their use. Even without express legal authority in the state, Ohio courts have approved the validity of these wills. Adopting this process in other jurisdictions, however, has not been a priority. Wills still must be physically printed and executed with signatures in Washington and most states.

Avoiding probate and picking an executor

For those in Washington who are in the estate planning process, avoiding probate and picking an executor can have an important impact on estate administration. Both issues require serious long-term planning.

Probate is the legal procedure for transferring a person's assets to their heirs. It provides public notice to creditors for filing claims against the estate. It generally takes six months to undergo probate.

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