Estate planning is one of the most critical legal matters you should take care of – regardless of your age or the size of your estate. Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. In the most basic sense, wills are instruments that express how you would like to dispose of your property at death. However, a will is more than a simple document – it is exactly what its name implies – a will is determination and desire to make your own choices.
Failing to plan for death means deciding that state lawmakers choose how best to distribute your assets. A passive approach to your estate plan can also unnecessarily burden your family at an already difficult time. Having a will and other documents can provide significant financial and emotional relief to your loved ones. By planning, you can keep your friends and family from having to decide how to distribute your property, make tough medical decisions, and guess what you might have wanted for yourself.
Many believe that there is an urgent need for estate planning only with large estates, because more is at stake to divide and fight over. Likewise if the testator (person who the will is drafted for) is aged, ill, or anticipating a serious illness he or she may feel an urgent need to draft or update a will. However, as grim as it is to consider, death can strike at any time—therefore, it’s best to be prepared in advance and to make these decisions before your life is in turmoil so you can focus on spending time with loved ones rather than lawyers during your final days.
A primary concern for many parents is to ensure that their children are cared for in the event they pass away. A will allows you to appoint individuals you choose to watch over your children and raise them rather than leaving it up to the state to decide which relative will take care of them, or even worse, to place them in foster care. If you have children it is vital that you designate this in a legally binding way even if you have selected god parents or already discussed with your siblings who would take them in—a will supersedes and controls this important decision.
Not everyone is rich and planning to leave millions to their children! Even if your estate is small, the property you have worked for is valuable to you and meaningful to your loved ones. You should consider getting or updating a will and other estate planning documents as major life events occur to you or your children: marriage, birth of a child, purchase of a home, retirement, grandchildren, etc. A little planning today can avoid costly legal fights and provide calm and solace after your passing when your loved ones know that they have divided your possessions and keepsakes per your wishes.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.
A Power of Attorney may permit the person you appoint to pay your mortgage, move your belongings, make gifts to your grandchildren on their birthdays on your behalf or pretty much any other power you want to bestow. Furthermore, they can be specific and/or limited so that the person you designate has specific guidelines limited their actions or directing them to do certain things.
Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives—also known as a living will)
An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive; this document is legally binding in Washington. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery. Not having an advanced directive has resulted in many expensive, public and prolonged court battles and may put the power to make decisions on your behalf in the hands of someone you would not want making those decisions or a Judge you have never even met.
Attorney-Drafted Will Package for a Flat Fee
Our law firm offers flat fee packages for drafting and executing estate planning documents. If you have a complex estate, are looking for significant estate planning advice (i.e. tax savings, business services), and/or wish to avoid probate, the fee for such services will be discussed on a case-by-case basis. We promise to always advise you of our fees upfront and to save you money whenever and wherever possible.
We offer a free initial 30 minute consultation to discuss your needs and the services we can provide for you. During your consultation you will learn more about estate planning and we will discuss the costs to provide all of your estate planning documents.
Simple Will Drafting
If your estate planning needs are minimal we are able to offer a flat fee that includes questionnaires, up to 30 minutes total consultation, initial will drafting and one revision, a Health Care Directive, a Power of Attorney and an execution ceremony in the attorney's office (if desired). We can advise you if your estate qualifies for this low flat fee very quickly over the phone.
Legal fees for the simple will drafting are $700 for an individual or $850 for both partners of a marriage.
Following the death of a loved one it is usual to consult with an attorney to ensure that the person’s will is executed according to his or her wishes, or if the person died without a will, in accordance with the laws of the State of Washington. This is customarily done through probate if the person had assets above a certain threshold or real property at the time of his or her death. Regardless of whether the decedent had a will or died intestate the probate will be opened in King County Superior Court (or the superior court of the county in which the person lived or died). You will want an attorney to take care of all the court filings and ensure that the probate is done properly.
While probate sounds scary and complicated it is a process we are very familiar with and can help you through. We have heard of some law firms charging a fortune for this process. While it is not cheap we charge very reasonable rates for probate and can help you through this confusing time.