An Estate Planning Overview

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Wills and Trusts

A Last Will and Testament can do much more than just designate who inherits your property after your death. Parents can nominate a guardian for their minor children. A Will can also create a Trust to hold and manage the inheritance of any beneficiary, such as a minor or incapacitated adult; a testamentary Special Needs Trust can leave a bequest to a disabled beneficiary without jeopardizing his or her eligibility for Medicaid or SSI, and the trust funds can be used to pay for goods and services not covered by those programs. A Revocable Living Trust is an alternate way to dispose of property after your death.


Durable Powers of Attorney

Every estate plan should also include a Durable Power of Attorney, granting the legal authority to a third party (called an Attorney-in-Fact or Agent) to manage your affairs in the event that you become incapacitated. Parents may authorize their Attorney-in-Fact to make health care decisions for minor children, and include a provision nominating a legal guardian for their children.


Community Property Agreements

A Community Property Agreement is unique to Washington State, but it is a well-established and widely used estate planning document used by couples with no estate tax issues. Not all property owned by a married couple is automatically deemed to be community property. A Community Property Agreement can eliminate any doubt as to the separate or community status of property by declaring that all property owned by the couple, now or in the future, is automatically converted to community property, and all community property passes automatically to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse. This negates the need to go through a probate proceeding after the first spouse's death. Because a Community Property Agreement would negate any estate tax planning in a couple's Wills, it should not be used by couples with potential estate issues.


Health Care Directives

A Health Care Directive is an optional, but very popular, document, also known as a "Living Will", directing that all medical treatment (and artificial nutrition and hydration as well, if so desired) be withdrawn under certain circumstances. Similar documents, such as the Physician's Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, or "POLST" form, and the Five Wishes form, have been developed in recent years. These documents do not replace a Health Care Directive, but may provide supplemental instruction regarding life sustaining treatment. However, care needs to be taken to make sure these documents work together to create a clear set of instructions for others to follow.

Additional Resources

Law Office of John S. Palmer

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