In Washington, "estate planning" refers to all of the decisions affecting how a person's property is going to be disposed of after their death, as well as the procedure of implementing those decisions when the time comes.
Estate planning normally requires professional legal and financial advice, because of the complexity and importance of the issues involved. A poorly-executed estate plan can commonly end with survivors suing each other, and prevent your intentions from being effectuated.
Estate planning can have various positive effects on the planner during life, as well. These benefits are normally somewhat intangible, revolving around the peace of mind that comes with knowing that, after your death, you family will be taken care of and that they'll know what your last wishes are. Nonetheless, most people find this very valuable. To that end, you should come up with a power-of-attorney agreement. When you grant someone power of attorney, you have given them the power to make particular decisions on your behalf. You can grant them as much or as little authority as you want. Most individuals, however, give family members or life partners power of attorney with respect to medical care, so if they become incapacitated, their wishes will still be carried out.
The last thing a person wants to think about is the possibility that, after their death, their survivors are fighting over some part of their estate plan that's ambiguous or otherwise contentious. If you want to keep this, or at least make it far less possible, you should have the help of a Washington attorney every step of the way.
Common Features of Washington Estates
Will: A will is often the central component of an estate plan. It is a legal document which says what is to be done with a person's assets after they die. It normally involves giving money and property to the testator's close family members, friends, and sometimes charitable organizations.
Living Will: A living will contains instructions about your medical care, typically for the purpose of informing your family and doctors of your preferences if you suddenly become incapacitated. A living will is extremely critical if you have any strong preferences in this area. It should be written with the advice of a doctor, so you know the particular medical consequences of your decisions, and a lawyer, so it is virtually guaranteed to be legally binding.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney, while important, is not to be used lightly. This is because it involves granting someone else the power to make legally-binding decisions on your behalf. Normally, your spouse will automatically have power of attorney if you become incapacitated. If you are not married, however, you need to make a document explicitly granting that authority to someone you trust (a life partner or close family member, for instance).
Funeral Arrangements: You should make it very clear to the individuals handling your funeral what type of funeral you want, and what you want done with your body. You should not put these instructions in your will, because wills are commonly not read until days or weeks after the testator dies, by which point it may be too late to give their wishes on this subject effect.
Do I Need a Washington Estates Lawyer?
A flawed estate plan in Washington can result in those affected by it being confused as to your intent, which can then lead to disputes between them. A seasoned attorney can commonly avoid this confusion by ensuring that there is as little ambiguity as possible in your will and other related documents.