Over the course of a long life, every different person will acquire a different set of assets and liabilities. When it comes time to think about passing them on to family and friends after you pass on, though, there is a trifecta of instruments that do the bulk of the work. While others might be necessary depending on your relationships and your income, the majority of estates can be settled successfully with a will, a power of attorney, and an estate tax plan.

The Trifecta

A will is a fairly self-explanatory document, at least on a simple level. Most people require only a list of their assets and their plan for distribution, and the same for any lingering debts. However, because so many wills are so simple, some people forego having one at all, and yet this leads to intestate succession. This distribution of assets may not be what the person wants, however – for example, the surviving spouse is entitled to the decedent’s entire share of the net community estate; to the exclusion of others, such as children from a first marriage or favored sibling.
A power of attorney (whether general or health care related) in Washington is a fairly broad and expansive document, but it may also be revoked at any time, for any reason. Some decisions are barred to the agent, such as whether or not to amputate a limb or commence shock therapy, but most of the time, the attorney-in-fact may act with relative impunity. An estate tax plan, contrary to many wills, can be quite complex. While the exemption from estate taxes in Washington is fairly generous – up to $2 million – federal taxes can take up to half of an estate. Careful planning is required to minimize the tax you will pay. These three documents will be enough for many simple estates to be properly disposed of.

Other Documents You May Require

While the three documents mentioned may be enough to settle a simple estate, more may be required if you have complex issues to resolve. One of the most common additional documents used in estate planning is a trust, though there are many kinds of trusts. If it is contained in the will itself, Washington law will refer to a trust as testamentary; if it is a separate document, it is called a living trust. A somewhat unique type is a special needs trust, which can be used to store money for a minor child or a disabled child of any age.

Another common document in Washington estate planning is called a Community Property Agreement (CPA). Washington and eight other states follow the community property standard of asset distribution in estate planning and divorce, which means that as closely as possible, the relevant property is divided equally. Community property is defined as all that was acquired during the marriage (with rare exceptions), so any property that you brought into the marriage does not qualify as part of this category. If you have very little family, a CPA may be a good idea in terms of asset disposition, since executing one avoids probate proceedings in all but the most unusual cases.

Contact An Estate Planning Attorney

While the area of estate planning law can be complex, it can also be intimidating and depressing. Having a compassionate and knowledgeable attorney on your side can make a big difference. The Renton estate planning attorney Dan Kellogg will work to help you arrive at a disposition that feels appropriate for you and your family. Call the office today at 425-227-8700 to set up an initial appointment.