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Facing our mortality may not be pleasant, but preparing for it with an estate plan in Washington State brings peace of mind and protects our loved ones. In Washington State, a well-crafted estate plan ensures your wishes are known and respected, streamlining the process for your beneficiaries and avoids potential legal complications. Below, we delve into the essential documents forming the foundation of your estate plan in Washington State:

Last Will and Testament: The Cornerstone of Distribution

Imagine a roadmap outlining how your possessions are distributed after your passing, who you want to carry out your wishes and potentially naming guardians for your children. That’s what a Last Will and Testament does. It specifies:

  • Beneficiaries: The individuals or entities inheriting your assets, be it family, friends, charities, or a combination.
  • Assets: The types of property you own, like real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and investments.
  • Distribution Shares: How much each beneficiary receives, expressed as percentages or specific items.
  • Executor: The trusted individual responsible for carrying out your wishes as outlined in the Will.
  • Optional testamentary trust provision to set up trust for kids naming guardians, and placing assets into a trust for their benefit should something happen to you as well as naming trustee’s for the trust.
  • Optional testamentary Credit Shelter/Disclaimer trust provision in order to take advantage of doubling Washington State Estate tax exemption for married couple.  Currently the Washington State Estate Tax is $2.193 million per marital community, however, if assets are placed into a disclaimer trust upon passing that exceed this amount, the surviving spouse can claim another $2,193 million in exemption from Washington Estate tax which can be up to 20% of the estate that exceeds $2.193 million.  The Federal tax limit is currently over $13.61 Million per person in 2024 but that number may be reduced significantly in the coming years.  More advanced tax planning such as non revocable trust or gifting may need to be factored in as part of an estate plan to manage a larger estate.

Remember, a Will only comes into effect upon your death and doesn’t address situations where you’re incapacitated. A will can also be amended or revoked at anytime as long as you are alive.

Durable Powers of Attorney: Empowered Decision-Making During Incapacity

Life throws unexpected curveballs. If illness or injury leave you unable to manage your finances or make medical decisions, Durable Powers of Attorney (POA) step in:

  • Financial POA: Grants a designated individual (your “attorney-in-fact”) authority to manage your finances, pay bills, and handle investments. This ensures your financial affairs are handled smoothly even when you can’t do so yourself.
  • Healthcare POA: Empowers your chosen representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to communicate. This includes authorizing or refusing specific treatments, aligning with your values and wishes.
  1. Living Will (Healthcare Directive): Your Voice in End-of-Life Care

End-of-life situations can be emotionally charged. A Living Will, also known as a Healthcare Directive, provides clarity and comfort:

    • Expresses your wishes: Clearly outlines your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments like artificial respiration or feeding tubes in case you’re unable to communicate them yourself.
    • Reduces burdens: Relieves your loved ones from making agonizing decisions during a difficult time, ensuring your wishes are known and respected.
    • Peace of mind: Knowing your voice will be heard offers invaluable comfort and control over your end-of-life care.

Living Trust: An Alternative Path with Advantages

While not essential in a basic estate plan in Washington State, a Living Trust offers distinct benefits:

  • Avoids probate: Assets placed within the trust escape the probate court process, potentially saving time, money, and avoiding public scrutiny. With that said, the probate process is fairly inexpensive and simple in Washington State in most cases if things are not disputed. Additionally, anybody who has more than $100,000 in assets upon passing may need to open a probate case regardless.  Probate is the process of appointing a personal representative to administer the estate, distribute assets and pay creditors if needed.
  • Flexibility in distribution: You can set specific conditions for distributing trust assets, ensuring they reach beneficiaries according to your wishes.
  • Ongoing management: Appointing a Trustee manages the trust assets during your lifetime and distributes them as instructed upon your passing. For example, if real estate was placed in a trust, then a personal representative would not need to be appointed by the court for the trustee to administer the asset, but keep in mind that a revocable trust does not shield the asset(s) from being part of your overall estate and subject to probate creditors.
  • Privacy: A trust is private vs. a will must be filed with the court.  Therefore, if your assets are in a trust, then the public will not know what you have and who received the assets if they are not mentioned in your will.

Beyond the Basics: Tailoring Your Estate Plan

Remember, these documents are the building blocks, and everybody’s situation may be different. Additional personalization’s and factors that may be included in a will include:

  • Complexity of your assets: If you hold significant assets or have intricate family dynamics, consulting an estate planning attorney is crucial so that you can make sure assets go where you want them to and potentially save on estate taxes.
  • Minor children: Designating guardians ensures their well-being and upbringing align with your wishes if you pass away while they’re young.
  • Digital assets: Specify how online accounts, photos, and digital property are handled to avoid confusion and potential loss.
  • Funeral Instructions: A will can designate how you want to handle your passing, such as cremation, burial or other options.


  • Regular review: Update your plan as your life circumstances and wishes evolve.
  • Legal estate planning guidance: Consulting an experienced Washington State estate planning attorney ensures your plan complies with legal requirements and effectively addresses your unique needs.

Start planning today: Proactive estate planning empowers you, protects your loved ones, and brings peace of mind. This information serves as a starting point, but remember, professional legal advice is vital for crafting a personalized plan that reflects your specific situation and goals. Take the first step towards securing your future and providing clarity for those you care about most.

If you have additional questions regarding your estate plan in Washington State, give Symmes Law Group a call at 206-682-7975 to learn about your options.

  • Richard Symmes

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