What is Estate Planning? Estate planning is the process of planning for death or incapacity through documents such as Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills.
What are the most important documents to have? The 3 mains documents everyone needs, no matter their situation are:
Will – Transfers property to heirs & paying off debts at death
Durable Power of Attorney – Appointing someone to make medical & financial decisions for you when you are unable to; not in effect when you pass away
Living Will – Allows you to tell doctors what sorts of treatment you do or do not want, if you are in a vegetative state & will never recover; does not apply if there is any chance that you will recover (solely a death bed document)
Do I still need estate planning even if I don’t have much money? Even if you only have 2 pennies to rub together, you still need estate planning. At a minimum, you need a Durable Power of Attorney to allow someone to help you make medical and financial decisions when you are no longer able to
Does having a Will mean that I can avoid probate? No, but it does make probate much easier.
What is the difference between a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA HC) and a Living Will? A DPOA HC allows you to appoint someone to made health care decisions (including withdrawing life-sustaining treatment) and speak with doctors on your behalf. A Living Will
How often should I get my documents updated? You should get your documents updated once about every 10 years or when a major life event (birth, death, divorce, decline in health, etc.) occurs. Laws also change periodically,
Do my documents expire? They do not expire if they were written by an attorney in Washington State.
I have recently moved from another state. Are my documents from that state still valid? Possibly not. You will need to speak to a WA attorney about making sure they comply with WA laws. Each state has different laws, so a Will that is valid in one state may not be valid in another.
What if I don’t do any estate planning? WA law then determines who makes decisions and gets to inherit from you. You may also be assigned a court appointed guardian if you no longer have mental capacity.
Do I need to hire a lawyer to draft my documents? If you want the documents done correctly, you should hire an attorney. There is significant risk that forms found online do not properly meet WA law requirements. For example, the Durable Power of Attorney statute (RCW 11.125) was significantly changed as of January 1, 2017. Most of those online forms likely have not been changed to reflect the updates.