Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the management and disposal of a person's estate during the person's life in preparation for a person's future incapacity or death.
For those of us of a certain age, who still cling to older, abet incorrect definitions, estate planning might seem like it is only for others. Those who have wealth, property, and investments.
After all, if I don’t own a home or have savings, why do I need a will? And why would I bother with a power of attorney if I don't need a will?
Times change, and so do laws and possibilities, according to Attorneys Lauren A. Pitman, Principal Andrea L. Huff, Principal Heidi L. Raedel Magaro, Principal and Erin R. McCrillis of the local Lifetime Legal PLLC Firm. These attorneys specialize in Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Medicaid Planning & Guardianship.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with these ladies and personally learned a lot.
They were kind and clear enough to explain why estate planning is not only necessary but vital for all of us.
During life, a durable power of attorney instrument is one of the most important planning tools available. It is a tool that allows an individual to share certain legal power/authority with another (trusted) person.
Sharing certain legal power/authority provides protection to an individual should they experience physical/age-related disabilities and/or decreased cognition or loss of capacity. This tool terminates at death.
When planning for the distribution of your assets at death, there are a myriad of tools available. Ensuring those tools are the most appropriate for your circumstances and priorities can sometimes involve a complex analysis that is best done by an experienced estate planning attorney.
A common misunderstanding occurs when an account owner decides they need assistance with the management of a financial account, and they inquire with the financial institution about granting someone else access.
Oftentimes, the account owner adds someone else to the account as a co-owner/joint owner. At this point, however, the newly named co-owner/joint tenant is now an owner of the account and can use/manage the funds as their own, which also subjects the account to the new co-owner/joint owner’s creditors.
Also, this account will likely be distributed to the co-owner/joint owner upon the true account owner’s death; this may sometimes be contrary to the account owner’s wishes.
Another common misconception is that because Washington is a community property state, a surviving spouse is entitled to an “automatic” transfer of assets simply because of that community characterization.
In reality, however, some assets will require an administrative process to formally transfer assets to the surviving spouse. Seeking legal advice as a married couple can ensure a thoughtful and efficient transfer or distribution.
A Will is a common planning tool in Washington State. A Will must be signed by the testator, (individual making the bequests) in the presence of two disinterested witnesses. To facilitate and ease administration (probate), the testator often nominates a personal representative/executor in the Will to serve without bond (insurance policy to protect the assets he/she is managing) and to serve with nonintervention powers (without court intervention).
Some years ago, in another state, I remember telling another elder law specialist that I had no need for a will, since I owned nothing of value. She shook her head and simply asked, “Suppose you were hit by a car and that caused your death? Would your family want to absorb all your medical costs or would they want to seek relief through the courts”? I admit I had never given that scenario a thought.
Clearly, the best solution is to talk to the experts. And luckily for us, this team is offering free webinars on estate planning on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. For more information check out the website for Lifetime Legal PLLC at https://www.lifetime.legal/
Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia. Contact her at kathleen@theJOLTnews.com or post your comment below.
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