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

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.

Inheritance issues: secrets can be costly at death

The prudent step of drafting a will or power of attorney aids a person's family in Washington. However, this planning is worthless if the location of these documents is kept secret from family members.

In fact, a BMO Wealth Management poll in 2016 revealed that only one-third of people in this country informed their heirs about where these important documents are kept. Ten percent provided copies of these original papers to their heirs.

Pets and trust planning

Many aspects of estate planning include how to pass your property onto your loved ones, whether it is through a will, a trust or other means. However, pet owners may also want to consider creating a pet trust in accordance with Washington's laws on trusts for the care and well-being of their beloved animal.

Without adequate planning or a properly drafted document, pets are treated as personal property and may distributed in the same manner as other property after death such as furniture and other non-financial assets. At times, a family member or friend may assume responsibility for the pet and have the financial ability to pay for care.

What happens to personal property when a tenant lives alone?

While it may seem like those who rent their homes, rather than own their home, do not have much of a reason to consider estate planning, this is not the case. It is important for tenants to make sure their affairs will be handled appropriately after their death. Two years ago, Washington enacted a law that allows a tenant who lives alone in a rented dwelling unit to designate a person to act on their behalf after they die, and to avoid the time and expense associated with probate.

A tenant may designate a person take care of personal property and other matters after the tenant dies, because heirs may not timely learn of the tenant's death. This may allow heirs to avoid probate procedures or claiming property under the state's small estate affidavit procedure. The tenant may revoke or change this designation at any time.

What are a guardian's duties?

In Washington, guardians may be appointed to assist and protect a person who is legally unable to manage their own affairs because of an incapacity. Guardians are placed in a high position of trust and owe the greatest duty of care to that incapacitated person.

Washington has three types of guardianships. A professional guardian is court-appointed, cannot be a member of the incapacitated person's family and charges fees and carries out these duties for at least three people. A public guardian is a professional guardian who provides these services for the Office of Public Guardianship when no one else can serve as guardian. A lay guardian is a member of the incapacitated person's family.

Death and uncertain taxes

Tax laws may change and complicate estate planning. However, this planning remains important and should not be delayed by a federal tax debate in Congress.

First, many tax experts argue that any appeal of estate taxes will come with a sunset provision where taxes will return in force in a decade. These taxes may even be re-imposed. If the generation-skipping tax is repealed, it may be impossible to move assets outside the transfer tax system. This may block the permanent shifting of assets outside the tax system until the estate tax rules are later reinstated

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