Imagining your spouse dying feels terrible, but unfortunately, it’s a good idea to have a plan in case the unthinkable happens.

Whether you and your partner are equal income earners or one partner is the bread-winner having a plan can help the living partner navigate an impossible time.

How Can I Protect My Family If My Spouse Dies In Washington State?

If you or your spouse have dependents that rely on you for care and finances, an estate plan can help protect them.

You can use your estate plan to ensure your spouse receives the full property and any inheritance you have. Some states only allow a spouse with no children to inherit one-third to half of the estate, with the rest going to siblings or parents. So if you ever move out of Washington, you’ll want this clearly stated in your wishes [1].

If your family is all on the breadwinner’s health care plan, you may also want to think about a backup plan and how that would be paid for.

You may also want to consider taking out life insurance policies to help supplement any income lost or caring giving responsibilities lost due to the death of a spouse. The money from an insurance policy can help pay for care for young children, pay your mortgage or rent, and help provide some relief financially while grieving.

What Happens If Only One Spouse Is On The Mortgage?

If one spouse purchased your home before getting married and the other spouse was not on the mortgage, you need a plan before that spouse passes. First, you’ll want to designate your spouse as the property’s beneficiary in your estate plan [2]. You’ll also want to check for a due-on-sale clause in the mortgage, which means upon transfer or sale the full remaining mortgage amount is due. You’ll want to consult an attorney to discuss how your spouse can assume the loan on the house if the spouse on the mortgage passes away.

What If My Partner And I Are Not Legally Married?

If you and your partner live together but are not legally married, creating an estate plan will help protect your family. If you do not have a marriage certificate or civil union if one of you dies the other will not be able to make any end of life care decisions nor inherit any property or money [2]. Instead, all of your property will go to your closest living relative.

In addition to creating an estate plan, will, and assigning a power of attorney, unmarried partners should designate beneficiaries on bank accounts.

What If We Have Step Children?

If you and your spouse have any stepchildren, it’s important to know that legally your stepchildren do not have any legal rights to your estate, unless they are legally adopted [4]. If you want any stepchildren to be included in the step-parents will, you’ll need to designate that through gifts designated in your will.

What Should We Do To Create A Plan For Our Family?

If you and your partner currently do not have a plan for if one of you dies, call to set up an appointment with a lawyer at Priest Family Law. Our team has experience creating estate plans that will give you and your spouse peace of mind for you and your family. We understand this can be a hard situation to imagine but we can help guide you through creating an estate plan that protects your family, designates guardians for children, and helps ensure your property and money has the correct beneficiaries.

[1] Keene, Valerie. “Estate Planning For Millennials.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-for-millennials.html

[2] Loftsgordon, Amy. “If I’m Not On The Mortgage, Can The Bank Foreclose After My Spouse Dies?” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/if-i-am-not-the-mortgage-can-the-bank-foreclose-after-my-spouse-dies.html

[3] Randolph, Mary. “Estate Planning For Unmarried Partners.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-for-unmarried-partners.html

[4] “Stepchildren And Your Will.” Lawyers.com. https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/step-children-and-your-will.html

When creating your estate plan, you will be faced with some hard questions about how you want your property and assets distributed, as well as about your end of life care. You’ll also need to choose an executor to manage your will and estate after you pass. Here are some questions you’ll need to ask yourself while estate planning.

Who Should I Choose For My Executor In Washington State?

Who you should choose as your executor is a personal question that depends on your family and friend relationships. If you are married, choosing your spouse can be a good choice. You and your spouse likely share property, bank accounts and personal wishes with each other, so your spouse is a good candidate to best execute your wishes. Unmarried or widowed people may choose a sibling or an older adult child. You can also appoint two co-executors, but sometimes this is unwise if they disagree [1]. The most important thing is naming someone you trust with your finances and is qualified to complete the tasks needed [1]. It’s also wise to choose someone who lives close to you.

Who Do I Want To Inherit My Property In Washington State?

Deciding who you want to inherit your property and assets is another personal decision that depends on your relationship. Often, people will choose their spouse, child or grandchildren. However, if you have an unmarried partner and want them to inherit any part of your estate you’ll need to explicitly say so in your estate plan and name each other as beneficiaries on bank accounts [2]. You can also leave some of your estate to a charity by leaving a gift in your will or trust [3].

In Washington State Is A Will Or A Living Trust Better?

Talking with an estate planning attorney can help you better decide if you want a will or living trust. Wills generally cost less than creating a living trust, but the benefit of a living trust is your property won’t have to go through probate [4].

Who Do I Want To Be Guardian Of My Children?

If you have any children under the age of 18 years old, you will want to appoint a legal guardian for them, if you die, in your will [4]. You can also appoint a financial guardian for your child. It’s best to ask who you choose before appointing them without their knowledge.

With Washington State Law In Mind, What Are My End Of Life Care Wishes?

During estate planning, you can create a living will or healthcare directive. In these documents, you can appoint a power of attorney who can make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so [4]. People often choose their power of attorney to be the same person as their executor. In your healthcare directive, you can also designate if you’d like a do not resuscitate or if you would like extreme measures taken. Washington State is one of the few states that has a Death with Dignity Act, allowing assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill [5]. This can also be noted in your documents.

What Do I Want My Funeral To Look Like?

In your estate plan, you can leave directions on if you want your body to be cremated or buried, and if you prefer a funeral or memorial service [4]. You could also tell your loved ones what you’d like to be buried with or any songs you’d like played.

What Law Firm Should I Choose In Washington State To Help Me Create An Estate Plan?

Choosing the right lawyer to create your estate plan is an important part of the process. At Priest Family Law, we have vast experience creating estate plans in Washington State and helping our clients answer the hard questions that come up during this process.

[1] “Naming An Executor.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/technical-support-main/online-will-naming-executor.html

[2] Randolph, Mary. “Estate Planning For Unmarried Partners.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-for-unmarried-partners.html

[3] Keene, Valerie. “Estate Planning For Millennials.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-for-millennials.html

[4] Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. “What Is Estate Planning?” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-is-estate-planning.html

[5] “Death With Dignity Act.” Washington State Department of Health. https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/DeathwithDignityAct

 

Creating a proper estate plan will help ensure your wishes about end of life care and your funeral, as well as, how your property and assets are distributed after death. The best way to ensure your estate plan will be executed smoothly is to hire an estate planning attorney.

Asking your lawyer a few questions will help you pick the best estate planning attorney for you and will help understand your options and determine the best path forward for you.

How Long Have You Been A Practicing Attorney In Washington State?

When creating your estate plan, you want an attorney that has experience creating other estate plans. But you also want someone who is familiar with technology and digital assets, as a lot of millennial clients want to name a digital executor to their online files and digital life [1]. At Priest Family Law, our attorney partner has been practicing for 12 years and has experience working with estate plans in Washington, as well as vast trial experience.

How Long Does The Estate Planning Process Take?

This answer will vary based on how complicated your wishes and estate are. You may also wish to advise other professionals in your estate plan, such as your accountant. However, if you are sick, or perhaps you’re helping an aging parent create an estate plan, you’ll want to know if this will take months or weeks with each attorney you speak to.

How Do You Charge For Estate Plans?

Some estate planning attorneys charge by the hour and others may charge a flat fee for estate planning. Wills also tend to cost less than creating a living trust [2].

What If I Want To Leave Someone Out Of My Will In Washington State?

Many states have laws to protect people from disinheriting a spouse and children [3]. If you want to disinherit a child it’s important to explicitly say so in the will and can also be helpful to write a letter of intention why they are being disinherited. This can help prevent your wishes from being challenged in court.

How Do I Avoid High Estate Taxes In Washington State?

While federal estate tax is now only applied to estates valued at more than $11.58 million, Washington State also implements an estate tax [4]. Washington State imposes this tax on estates valued at more than $2.193 million [5]. You may think you’re below the $2 million mark, but it’s important to keep in mind that any homes, property, cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance are all added up to create an estate’s value [5]. Your executor is also required to file a tax return for your estate within nine months of your death. Your attorney can help you better understand this.

Why Should I Choose Priest Family Law?

At Priest Family Law, we understand that creating an estate plan can be challenging emotionally to think about your death or if family ties are complicated. We have vast experience helping clients navigate this process and creating strong estate plans. We’ll help you execute your wishes and give you peace of mind.

[1] Keane, Valerie. “Estate Planning For Millennials.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-for-millennials.html

[2] Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. “What Is Estate Planning?” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-is-estate-planning.html

[3] Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. “Leaving Someone Out Of Your Will.” Lawyers.com. https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/leaving-someone-out-of-your-will.html

[4] “State Estate Taxes.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/state-estate-taxes.html

[5] Randolph, Mary. “Washington Estate Tax.” Nolo. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/washington-estate-tax.html

Losing a parent comes with a mix of emotions ranging from sadness, nostalgia and perhaps confusion about what the next steps should be in settling their estate. If both of your parents have now died, their child is likely their next of kin and therefore inherits their estate.

First, request multiple copies of your parent’s death certificate from the funeral home, this will help you settle their estate. What you need to do next depends on if your parents have a will. Your first step is to find the will. Ideally, your parents discussed their estate planning with you before passing away. If that’s not the case, start by attempting to contact your parent’s attorney or estate lawyer. If that proves fruitless, search your parents’ office, home safe, a safety deposit box. 

If you’re still struggling to find the will, go to probate court to search real estate transfer-on-death certificates and see if they designated there who should inherit their property. [1]

What To Do If Your Parents Have A Will In Washington State

If your parents created a will this makes your job as executor easier. As their will clearly expresses your parents’ wishes of what should be done with their property and assets, now you need to execute those wishes. [2] While you can do a lot of the work yourself, you’ll likely still need the help of an estate lawyer to streamline the process. [3]

Now that you’ve found the will, your first role as executor will be to determine if the settling of the estate needs to go through probate, which is the official court process of settling an estate. [4] Usually, “small” estates or estates that have clear transfers of property through trusts, beneficiary designations will not have to go through probate. 

As executor, you’ll need to settle your parents’ estate obligations and pay any debts and bills. Next, your role is to distribute your parents’ property, which can be done when probate is over. [5] However, if there is not enough money to pay the debts, the executor must sell the property to

settle those debts. Once the bills are paid, the property and assets are distributed and probate is over, the executor has completed his or her job. 

What To Do If Your Parents Do Not Have A Will In Washington State

Each state has a set of laws that determines who inherits property if the deceased person did not have a plan in place prior to dying. [6] Without a living spouse, biological children and legally adopted children are the likely beneficiaries. It’s important to note that stepchildren are not seen as children under the eyes of the law unless they too have been legally adopted. [7]

Without a will, the court will use intestate succession to distribute property. [8] In both Texas and Washington State law, when the deceased person’s spouse is also deceased, the children inherit everything.[9] [10] 

Settling Your Parents’ Estate In Washington State

Keep in mind that settling an estate can take a couple of months to even a couple of years depending on its complexity. Enlisting the help of an estate lawyer, who can help shepherd you through the process can help speed it up and ensure it’s completed correctly.

If you or a loved one recently lost your parents and need some guidance navigating settling an estate, probate or will in Washington State, call our wills and estate attorney Roger Priest. He can help guide you through your unique legal situation.

Sources:

  1. Nolo. “Transfer-on-death deeds for Real Estate.” https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/transfer-death-deeds-real-estate
  2.  Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “Will & Probate FAQ” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/wills-and-probate-faq.html
  3.  Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “Duties of an Executor.” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/the-duties-of-an-executor.html
  4.  Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “Duties of an Executor.” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/the-duties-of-an-executor.html
  5.  Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “Duties of an Executor.” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/the-duties-of-an-executor.html
  6.  Simmons Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will?” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/what-happens-when-you-dont-have-a-will.html
  7.  Simmons, Hannibal, Betsy. Lawyers.com. “Beneficiaries in a Will.” https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/trusts-estates/wills-probate/beneficiaries-in-a-will.html
  8.  Nolo. “Intestate Succession” https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/intestate-succession
  9.  Nolo. “Intestate Succession in Texas.” https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/intestate-succession-texas.html
  10.  Nolo. “Intestate Succession in Washington.”https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/intestate-succession-washington.html