Estate Planning and Probate in Washington State (Part 1)
Updated: Apr 5
Hello, my name is David A. Kurtz and I’m an estate planning attorney in downtown Vancouver, Washington. I’m a third-generation estate planning attorney. My grandfather, Earl Jackson, started practicing law in Clark County, Washington way back in the 1940s. I now practice law with my wife and partner, Danielle Paradis.
This will be the first in a series of blog posts about estate planning in Washington State. If you found this post, you may have a number of questions about estate planning. What does estate planning consist of? What does a will do? Do I need a trust? Can’t I just prepare my will online without the need of using a lawyer? What are powers of attorney? My bank accounts already have named beneficiary, isn’t that good enough? In this series of blog posts, I hope to shed some light about estate planning.
In Part 1, I will go over some estate planning basics, including intestacy, Wills, and Revocable Living Trusts.
Estate planning is a process involving the assistance of professional advisors who are familiar with your goals and concerns, your assets and how they are owned, and your family structure. It can involve the services of a variety of professionals, including your lawyer, accountant, financial planner, life insurance advisor, banker and broker.
Estate planning covers the transfer of property at death as well as a variety of other personal matters and may or may not involve tax planning. The document most often associated with this process is your will.
What happens if I do not do any estate planning? If you have not done any estate planning and you die your property will be distributed via “intestate succession” and possibly through nonprobate means. Intestacy law address the distribution of property when you die without a will or other nonprobate arrangement for the transfer of your property. This law is an attempt by the state legislature to distribute your property as if you made a will. The intestacy law determines inheritance rights to your property based on upon familial relationships – spouse, child, parent, grandparents, etc.
The use of wills and testaments to transfer property on death dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. In Washington, you have a statutory right to make a will if you are 18 years of age and are of sound mind. A person has the right and freedom to dispose of their property according to his or her private desire. Simply put, a will is a written document that is signed by you and attested to by two competent witnesses who are in your presence.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable trust is a trust created by a trustor that the trustor retains the right to revoke, either alone or in conjunction with another person during the trustor’s lifetime. During the Trustor’s lifetime, the Trustor will fund the trust with assets. Upon the trustor’s death, the formerly revocable trust become irrevocable and is administered and distributed pursuant to the terms specified by the trustor.
Revocable living trusts are commonly used to avoid probate process upon death. In some states, the probate process is cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive. Washington’s “nonintervention” probate procedure makes the probate process more simplified and as a result makes living trusts not as commonly used, particularly for simple estates. Revocable living trusts may also be used to transfer for real estate located outside of Washington.
In Part 2, I will discuss the various forms of nonprobate transfers of property.