Washington State Estate Planning Checklist – 6 Fundamentals
If you live nearby, this Washington estate planning checklist was made just for you! We’ve tried to provides a bit of direction on how to best plan your estate and medical preferences toward the end of your life. Many people use a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) as their primary document for controlling their distribution of assets after death–but there are other vital tasks that an executor must accomplish. Another choice–a Revocable Living Trust–accomplishes some of the same objectives as a Will but may be used together with a Will.
Many people create Durable (Health Care) and Durable (Financial) Powers of Attorney to be prepared for a situation where they can no longer make their own decisions due to mental or physical incapacity.
According to the Washington Revised Code, residents of Washington state can take the following steps to prepare their estate for distribution and elect attorneys-in-fact who will represent them if a physician believes it necessary:
The documents mentioned below are all critical, so a Washington estate planning lawyer should be consulted before their execution – to ensure that the will is followed as intended. These instructions are not meant to serve as a replacement for professional legal advice!
1 – Select Your Health Care Agent
A Health Care Agent – A health care proxy, also called a health care attorney-in-fact, is someone you name in your Durable Power of Attorney documents to make decisions about your medical treatment if you cannot communicate those wishes yourself. When you finish the POA form, you decide how much power to give this person. It’s usually best to pick somebody who knows you well and whom you trust completely to represent what YOU want to be done, not just what they think is best.
Durable Power of Attorney (Health Care) – Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare gives another person legal authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, should you ever be unable to do so yourself. It’s usually created and signed when the grantor (principal) can still make their own decisions. A Health Care POA often comes with an Advance Directive, used to express a patient’s wishes about consenting or refusing medical treatment if they become incapacitated. The Health Care POA will have a section where the grantor can specify what kind of power they’re giving their agent.
Signing Requirements – The principal or authorized representative must sign a power of attorney. The signature must also be acknowledged before a notary public or two (2) witnesses for it to be valid.
2 – Choose a Financial Agent
A Financial Agent is a person responsible for an individual’s finances and estate after signing a Financial Power of Attorney. The agent may or may not be able to perform business transactions on behalf of the creator, depending on what types of financial power they are granted within the durable power of attorney document. If it remains effective following said individual’s incapacitation, then the instructions for managing finances would only occur when mental unfitness is present.
Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney: This document allows you to elect somebody as your financial agent—a trustworthy individual who will manage finances on your behalf. Within the document, there is the option for a power of attorney that becomes effective immediately or only when you can no longer make decisions for yourself.
The principal or an authorized representative must sign a power of attorney, and the signature must be acknowledged before a notary public or two witnesses.
Financial Powers Commonly Allowed:
- Safe Deposit Box
- Lending or Borrowing
- Government Benefits
- Retirement Plan
- Real Estate
- Personal Property
- Power to Manage Property
- Legal Advice and Proceedings
3 – Create a Current Assets List
The Current Assets List can be your best friend when it comes to organizing the contents of your Washington Estate Planning checklist. Having a comprehensive and up-to-date accounting of any assets, property, ownership percentages, accounts, debts, liabilities, and more – so you will be able to sleep soundly knowing that every item in your estate is accounted for – but you’ll also have saved yourself (or your beneficiaries) time and money by being proactive about planning.
4 – Select and Contact Beneficiaries
An estate owner chooses someone to receive all or part of their estate after they die, and this person is called a beneficiary. Often a child of the estate owner is chosen as the beneficiary, but it can be anyone the individual wishes. Once an inheritor has been selected and their portion of the estate accounted for, an estate owner will contact them to let them know what they should expect to inherit and what responsibilities come with being an heir once the document goes into effect.
5 – Drafting a Will or Living Trust
Your Last Will & Testament and your Living Trust are documents that can be used to divide one’s estate following their death. However, they often serve different purposes. It’s not uncommon for those creating a Living Trust to use a pour-over will; however, they can also be used independently. The size of the estate in question often dictates which document someone chooses. A person’s taxes may also influence this decision as, generally speaking, trusts are subject to more taxation than wills.
Last Will and Testament (‘Will’) – A Last Will is the most typical Washington estate planning document, which takes effect after the estate owner’s death. Its primary purpose is to list all beneficiaries and instruct an estate manager, a Will executor, on how they should divide the estate. A will also offer guidance about handling debt and other responsibilities—most notably choosing a guardian for any children involved. Before recipients can get their inheritance from the will, it must go through probate court first to validate its legitimacy.
Signing Requirements – The principal must sign and have two (2) or more witnesses attest.
Living Trust (Revocable) – You can also use a Revocable Living Trust to divide an estate, which becomes effective immediately after signing it. This legal instrument creates an entity where the grantor (Trust creator) can transfer assets for their lifetime use. After the grantor’s death, the trustee or successor trustee will distribute the contents of the Trust among beneficiaries privately and quickly – outside of probate court.
Signing Requirements – Although the State statutes do not regulate how many signatures are required for a trust document, it is best if the grantor signs and acknowledges their signature.
Step 6 – Secure All Documents
As you can imagine, each of the documents mentioned above is extremely sensitive and should be kept in a secure location that only those who know about it can access (e.g., a fireproof and waterproof safe or an attorney’s office). Frequently, individuals will create copies and give them to people like their financial/healthcare agents, trustees, executor, beneficiaries, or other representatives.
When completing your own Washington Estate Planning checklist, are you going to make the grade? If not, please consider contacting our office at your convenience so we can build a customized plan that meets your specific financial goals. You can reach us by phone at 509-328-2150 or by using our contact page. We also found this Washington estate planning resource from WSU that is a helpful addition to what we’ve written above.