Wills in Washington

You have probably heard lots of different things about Wills from people in Washington and in other states. Maybe your friends have a Revocable Living Trust and they live in another state. Maybe your financial advisor works in multiple states and tells you that you can work with their lawyer in New York to create an estate plan to avoid probate. Maybe your aunt passed away in California and didn't have a Will and the probate was terrible for your family. It is important to get solid information regarding estate planning from someone who practices law in your state.

You may have heard people claiming that they or you only need a "simple Will" or that you will have to go to probate if you don't have a Will. You may have heard that you need a Revocable Living Trust instead of a Will.

I want to clear up a few things about Wills and Washington state. Many of these things also apply in Idaho, though each state is different. Please contact our office if you live in Idaho or Washington for a specific discussion with an attorney regarding your situation.

The first thing I want to stress is that laws of inheritance, probate, trusts, asset protection, and public benefits can change from state to state. This means that your friend who lives in California may be wrong when they tell you that you need a Revocable Living Trust in Washington. You can create an estate plan with documents that are VALID in each state of the US, but that doesn't mean those documents are the BEST documents for you in your state. It's important to understand that you need an attorney in your state who knows what other laws (all those I listed up above) affect the estate planning you're doing. Do not listen to a friend, financial advisor, or attorney who tells you that what is best in one state is best in all states. Always talk to someone experienced in estate planning in your state of residence.

So, what about Washington and Wills? A Will is the document that you create to tell the world what you want to have happen with your stuff when you die. It does not take effect until your death and it controls all the probate property you own at that time.

So do you need a "simple Will"? The answer in most cases is "NO." A "simple Will" is a Will in which you tell the world where you want your stuff to go, but it provides no mechanisms for asset protection that you might want or need for your beneficiaries. A slightly more complex Will (and much less complicated than a Revocable Living Trust) can provide asset protection for your loved ones if it's needed. A simple Will means we have no option for those protections if they are needed.

Some reasons you might not want a "simple Will" in Washington:

  1. You are married. The best way to provide asset protection in Washington for married couples is to properly draft a Will for both spouses.

  2. You have a disabled child or a child who is married to someone who might not be your favorite person. The best way to make sure the assets you leave to a child are used for your child and not their spouse or to pay their medical bills is to put a Trust in your Will. Those Trusts can make sure your loved ones are provided for and protected at the same time.

  3. You have children, even if they aren't currently disabled. Just because your children don't need the protection of a Trust now does not mean something won't happen later to change that. Accidents and medical emergencies can change the lives of your beneficiaries. If you have a contingent Trust (only gets used if it's needed) in your Will, you don't have to worry that something could happen between now and your death that would require you to change your whole Estate Plan. You can plan for those contingencies easily now.

  4. You have significant assets. It is true that if you have significant assets, a simple Will may end up with your children paying taxes on your estate that are otherwise avoidable.

  5. You do not have significant assets. If you have some assets, but not more than most people, you may want to make sure there are more protections for those assets than someone who doesn't need to worry that their surviving spouse or child might go broke. You can protect your assets at any level.

The bottom line is that there is too much to estate planning and Wills to be certain that you only need a "simple Will." It's very important to sit down with an elder law attorney to determine how best to protect you and your loved ones in the future.

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