Seattle Estate Planning Attorneys
Your journey. Our guidance.
We at STIB believe that every legal matter is a unique journey needing individual attention. Our Seattle attorneys have the skills, experience, and the commitment to work closely with you and guide you to your destination.
What is included in a basic estate plan?
Will: your Will provides for the transfer of your property at your death.
Financial Durable Power of Attorney: a document to appoint an agent (and a back-up) to make financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so because of illness or an accident.
Health Care Power of Attorney: a document to appoint an agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. (If you name the same agent for financial and health care decisions, one document can be used for both of these designations.)
Health Care Directive (“Living Will”): the opportunity to direct what kind of health care you wish to receive if you are terminally ill or in a permanent coma.
Why do I need a durable power of attorney?
Powers of Attorney allow you to designate who you want to make financial decisions or health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Failing to execute these documents can result in a guardianship being required, an expensive and time-consuming court proceeding.
Do I need to be able to understand my estate planning documents?
A person must have the capacity to understand what they are doing in order to execute estate planning documents. Postponing the decision to have an estate plan prepared and executed can result in the loss of the ability to implement these important documents.
What about revocable living trusts?
A revocable living trust is a document that serves the same purpose as a Will while also allowing your estate to be administered privately with no probate court involvement. Although probate in Washington is much more economical and efficient than in many states, persons who own property in more than one state or who wish for a greater level of privacy may choose to have their property administered under a revocable living trust.
To be effective, title to assets must be transferred to the revocable living trust, and it is always important to have a “pour-over Will” to direct property to the living trust at death which may not have been transferred to the trust during life.
We can help you decide if a revocable living trust is right for you and prepare the documents necessary to effectively implement this approach.
How should I provide for my spouse?
While many choose to leave their assets directly to their spouse, there can be good reasons to leave assets to a trust for the benefit of the spouse. (Trusts for a spouse can be created in either a Will or a revocable living trust.)
The federal estate tax exemption amount for 2016 is $5.45 million for an individual, and $10.9 million for a married couple if the surviving spouse follows the proper post-death procedures to elect to add the first-dying spouse’s estate tax exemption to their $5.45 million exemption. Because of the large federal exemption amount, and because there is this ability to double the exemption for a married couple, many couples feel that they will not have to worry about paying estate taxes. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you reside in Washington State, and if you have assets (including retirement accounts and life insurance death benefits) approaching or exceeding $2 million, you could have a false sense of confidence. Washington has a separate estate tax with much lower exclusion amounts–$2.079 million per person, with no ability for a married couple to elect to use the first-dying spouse’s exclusion to double that. However, with a tax-sensitive estate plan, a married couple can effectively pass double the Washington State exclusion amount to their loved ones without exposure to Washington State estate tax.
Assets in another kind of trust for your spouse, called a “special needs trust” or “safe harbor trust,” will not be considered when determining the eligibility of the surviving spouse for Medicaid long-term care coverage. This kind of trust, which can be combined with a credit shelter trust, allows protecting assets against the risk of the surviving spouse requiring long-term care.
Assets in a trust for the surviving spouse can also be used to ensure a later inheritance by others even if the surviving spouse remarries or changes his or her own estate plan. This is often especially important if your current spouse is not the parent of your children.
We can help you consider whether a trust for your spouse is appropriate in light of your wishes and needs.
How should I provide for young children?
If your children have yet to become mature adults, your estate plan (either a Will or trust) needs to designate someone (and a back up) to raise the children if you die–this person is called a guardian. Your plan also needs to name someone (and a back up) to manage the estate assets for the children’s benefit, who is called a trustee. The guardian and trustee can be the same person, or you can name different people for these roles.
We can help you think through the issues relating to these very important choices.
How should I provide for a domestic partner?
While Washington state law now gives registered domestic partners similar inheritance rights to a spouse, the use of a Will or trust can dramatically reduce complications and costs when one partner dies. Particularly if you own land or buildings, the death of one partner is likely to require costly court procedures unless you have a Will or trust.
How should I provide for a relative with disabilities?
If you want to leave an inheritance to a person with disabilities, you should consider whether the person is capable of managing the inheritance and whether the direct receipt of the inheritance will adversely affect benefits the person is receiving from other sources including government programs. Often, it will make more sense to leave the inheritance to a “special needs trust” for the person. Such a trust can provide assistance that can substantially improve the life of the individual without reducing other benefits he or she is eligible for.
If you decide to leave an inheritance to a “special needs trust,” one of the most important choices will be who will serve as the trustee (and as back-up trustee).
How do I coordinate beneficiary designations?
Most bank and brokerage accounts, life insurance policies and retirement accounts permit the naming of beneficiaries. In most cases, these beneficiary designations take precedence over what you provide in your Will or revocable trust. Because of this, it is very important to coordinate these designations with the terms of your Will and trust.
Further, the beneficiary designations for retirement accounts like IRA’s can dramatically affect the amount and timing of the federal income tax liabilities generated by these accounts.
We can assist you in evaluating how to make beneficiary designations that are both tax efficient and consistent with your goals and priorities.
Are there other estate planning documents to consider?
There are other documents which can play an important part in some estate plans.
Particularly for persons owning rental property, the formation of a “Limited Liability Company” or LLC can be advantageous. Not only can this protect your other assets from liability claims, it makes it very easy to transfer fractional interests in the LLC property. We can help you decide if an LLC makes sense for you, and develop the necessary documents to implement the new organization.
For persons desiring to keep the proceeds of life insurance from counting for estate tax purposes, we can prepare an “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust” or ILIT to hold the policy.
To implement many estate plans, title to real property (land and buildings) has to be changed. In Washington, this requires both a deed and a real estate excise tax affidavit. (Sometimes a real estate excise tax “supplemental statement” is also required.) We have extensive experience in preparing and recording these documents.
Who We Serve
- Individuals and families with basic or complex estate planning needs
- Individuals facing marriage dissolution, cohabitation issues, child custody/support concerns, paternity actions or other family law difficulties.
- Those seeking to establish a special needs trust or a guardianship for a family member with disabilities
- Family members seeking long-term care planning advice or assistance with elder-care issues
- Individual and professional fiduciaries, trustees, guardians, and those serving under a power of attorney
- Executors or personal representatives during probate administration
- Couples considering pre or post-nuptial agreements, or co-habitation agreements