Q. Is Washington estate planning more than just having a will?
A. Washington estate planning is much more than just having a will. In a broader sense, it is the process of creating and implementing a program for the protection and transfer of wealth.
Just as each person is unique, so is the estate planning for each person. Washington estate planning begins during your life and can continue long after your death. It is the understanding of your own limitations and the planning for possible guardianships and incapacity problems far in advance. Estate planning is also the process of simplifying the procedure of distribution and using methods to save taxes, probate, and administrative expenses.
Many people think they have “too little” to be concerned about Washington estate planning; however, in most cases, this is not true. In fact, I have read studies which indicate that there is a much higher percentage of administrative costs in a small estate than a large estate.
One of the first steps in estate planning is taking a complete financial inventory. This will enable you to understand what your assets are and their value. The next critical and perhaps most important step is planning who will manage your affairs upon your incapacity or death. This person (or institution) has to be someone you trust enough to put your life in his/her hands, so to speak. For example, if you become incapacitated, this person or institution, e.g. bank trust department, would have total control of your estate for your benefit.
Planning the distribution of your estate involves many decisions concerning who gets what at what age, or over what period of time, and whether certain people such as grandchildren or in-laws are to be included. Concerning tax, guardianship, and probate avoidance, most all of the major publications in the past year have suggested the use of living trusts as the best method to accomplish these goals.
The list of possibilities in estate planning includes gifting, insurance trusts, and many others, and good advice in estate planning is to seek a qualified attorney to discuss what is best for you.
Estate Planning is the process of deciding how you wish your estate to be distributed upon your death. This includes planning for an efficient and cost effective probate and the coordinated use of trusts and benficiary designations. It also includes planning to reduce or eliminate any estate tax liability. For parents of minor children it is also the method of designating guardians for them should one become necessary.
Estate planning also is necessary to plan for distribution of an estate to a beneficiary with a disability. This may be when there are concerns a beneficiary lacks the ability to protect his/her assets. Special Needs Trusts are also used to protect benefits that may be received by a disabled beneficiary that could be affected by an inheritance. No estate plan is complete without considering a Power of Attorney, a Health Care Directive (living will) and Community Property Agreement (for married couples). Other estate planning tools include the various types of living (revocable) trusts, irrevocable trusts, beneficiary designations, powers of appointment, various forms of property ownership (joint tenency in common, ect.) and gifting.
Renée E. Stein can answer your questions about Estate Planning and prepare one for you if you so desire.