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Kent Estate Administration and Probate Law Blog

What is the difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts?

Washington estate planning tools often focus on trusts as part of the plan. A trust is a way for an individual to distribute property by transferring its benefits and obligations to different people. When a trust is created, the owner or "trustor" or "grantor" transfers the legal ownership to a person, a "trustee," to manage for the benefit of another person, the "beneficiary." The trustee is responsible for acting in the best interest of the beneficiary.

The trusts can be either a testamentary trust or a living trust. A testamentary trust begins when the grantor dies and allows for the grantor to specify conditions for the receipt of the benefits and perhaps to spread payments out over a period of time. A living trust can start when the grantor is still alive. These are often used to help avoid probate as the assets can be distributed before the grantor dies. Within the living trust umbrella, there are revocable and irrevocable trusts.

What is included in a living will?

No one really wants to think about what will happen when they can no longer care for themselves, but it will happen to most of us in our lifetime. Therefore, estate planning and creating a living will is critical in making sure our desires are heard and met.

A living will is a document that gives direction in a person's medical treatment if they are no longer able to communicate. With all the recent news stories regarding this issue it shows how important they can be when family members are unable to agree or make decisions during this emotional time. Living wills are also known as a healthcare directive. They can include medical care such as tube feeding, resuscitation and organ donation. The living will can also direct that all treatment options should be performed or a person can choose some medical options and reject others. A living will does not take effect until a patient is in a permanent vegetative state or terminally ill and can't communicate with medical providers regarding their medical care.

An overview of guardianships

There may come a time when a person in Washington will find themselves being appointed as a guardian. This role carries with it a lot of responsibilities. Guardianships are established for children or adults who are unable to make decisions for themselves. Children or adults who are mentally or physically incapacitated need to have a parent or guardian to act on their behalf.

Guardians have the legal authority to take care of daily living expenses including food, clothing and housing. Guardians also make education choices, give consent for medical treatment and manage the ward's money and expenses. There are different reasons why a person may need a guardian. Children who don't have a parent or other family member may need a guardian. Or an adult who is mentally or physically incapacitated due to medical issues, drug or alcohol use or mental illness may need a guardian as well.

Different trust options exist to aid with estate planning

Estate planning can be unique to each individual and there are many estate planning tools available to meet different circumstances and needs. There are different types of trusts that may be set up for different purposes. According to one expert, trusts may provide greater asset protection and control over the distribution of assets, even including following death. Another benefit may be that, in general, living trusts are not subject to probate. A revocable trust may spare the family the publicity of a will and allow privacy to be maintained.

A living trust offers the benefit of control during the lifetime of the individual that drew up the trust but allows the assets to pass without going through probate upon the individual's death. A living trust can be used for asset protection and to protect the assets for future heirs. It can be revoked, or changed, by the party that created the trust if circumstances change and occasion the need for an accompanying change to the trust. The creator of the trust is the trustee and can name a successor trustee for trust administration after death.

Looking at Kasem's probate to avoid estate planning issues

Preparing for the future it common for Washington State residents and those across the nation. Whether it is for the short-term or the long-term, taking steps to protect the future and finances of an individual and their family is important. When a will is constructed during a person's lifetime, the details of the document could unexpectedly created issues during the estate administration. The probate process could be complicated if estate planning is not done properly, so it is crucial an individual carefully and adequately drafts the document.

The recent administration of the well-known radio host Casey Kasem serves as a reminder that estate planning could lead to complex legal issues if proper steps are not taken. In this matter, the issues stem from the fact that Kasem went through a second marriage. Issues present themselves when Kasem was ill and disputes arose about his end of life care. After his death, his adult children and second wife had many battles that ranged from what will be done with his remains to how his $80 million fortune will be distributed.

Simple, common mistakes to avoid in estate planning

Washington residents care about their loved ones, and making sure that one's estate is in order is a crucial element of making sure loved ones are helped cared for after death. However, estate planning can be a complex experience and there are some mistakes that should be avoided.

When choosing the person to implement an estate plan as an executor or trustee, a common instinct can be to default to certain people that seemingly make sense such as the oldest child or surviving spouse. Those should not be the default choices, however. Taking time to choose the correct person -- someone who is honest and completely trustworthy -- should trump any familial notion.

End-of-life planning is useful and important at any life stage

The end of life and death is not commonly something that anyone likes to talk about but because of advances in medical technology, and the ability to prolong life, it is important that individuals focus on long-term care planning and make their wishes for later in life, or end-of-life, known. The importance of protecting loved ones can be two-fold as individuals prepare for end-of life circumstances and situations, as well as those following the end of their lives.

Advance directives make it possible for individuals to express how they wish the end-of life period to transpire for them. An advance directive includes a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will. As part of an advance directive, a decision-maker will be named for circumstances when the individual is unable to make decisions for themselves. This can include decisions related to medical needs and medical care. The living will enumerates choices and decisions that may need to be made about healthcare during the end-of-life period. Living wills dictate which types of end-of-life interventions, such as life support or feeding tubes and artificial hydration, the individual wishes to receive and in what circumstances, such as a terminal state or one of permanent unconsciousness, among others.

Technology creates new issues in estate planning

Washington residents are wise to plan for the future through the use of estate planning tools. Getting older is inevitable and having a plan for problems that could potentially arise can help people avoid difficult situations in the future. Many Washington residents take appropriate steps by creating wills and other directives for future care, but they should also be aware of unique situations that can occur under estate planning, especially with technological advances in information-related areas.

It seems that individuals are always attempting to keep up with the latest technologies, whether it be the best smartphone or the newest social media website. The phenomenon is no different when it comes to the law. One area where the law lags behind involves estate protection and will creation. Many individuals have their very valuable information saved digitally, through online services such as a social media account, an online bank account, or a personal email account. Issues with wills and estates arise because many websites' and companies' privacy policies prevent non-account holders from accessing private information. This means that if an individual dies without either saving their information to an accessible location or sharing private passwords with designated individuals, their beneficiaries will have a very difficult time accessing assets as well as things of sentimental value such as digital photographs.

Mistakes in estate planning can be harmful

Washington residents are wise to plan for the future through the use of estate planning tools and consumer information, but they should also be aware of unique situations that can occur under estate law that may frustrate the purpose of an individual creating a will, filling out an IRA form or taking other estate planning steps.

One man had his intentions misdirected by such an intricacy in the law and his intended beneficiaries, his children, missed out on a $400,000 inheritance because of it. While the man had taken many steps in preparation to ensure that all of his assets went to the people he designated, he made one simple mistake. Before he passed away, the man filled out an IRA beneficiary form. His intent was to make his children his beneficiaries under that form. However, under the space for beneficiaries he wrote "to be distributed pursuant to my last will and testament" where he was supposed to actually list the name of each individual.

End-of-life planning can prevent heartbreak for families

This blog has previously noted the dispute over the guardianship of radio host Casey Kasem, and Washington residents may have heard the sad news about Kasem's recent passing. The passing away of a loved one can be one of the most tragic and devastating experiences and when that process is complicated by family disputes over the care of an incapacitated loved one, the results are heartbreaking.

The dispute over Kasem's end-of-life care occurred between his children from his first marriage and his subsequent wife. Allegedly, there was bad blood between Kasem's children and wife, and it only worsened when Kasem's health condition continued to go downhill. Kasem's children claimed that their father's wishes were to pass away in peace and comfort in the presence of friends and family. Kasem's wife said that the children were moving too quickly and that they were taking away Kasem's necessary medical care too soon. Kasem passed away at age 82.

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Jennifer C. Rydberg | Attorney at Law

Jennifer C. Rydberg
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Kent, WA 98030
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