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Estate planning is more complex than simply planning for what happens to your assets after you die. It can involve making plans for your children and family's welfare and your health care treatment in the event of incapacitation. Some estate planning tools are designed for lifelong maintenance and frequent revisions.
There are plenty of tools to help you with estate planning in Washington. Whether you live in Seattle, Tacoma or Spokane, you have access to legal estate planning resources like wills, living trusts, advance directives and more. Using LawInfo's Washington estate planning articles, you can learn about the legal ins and outs of securing your family's future and connect with a qualified local attorney.
The largest part of the estate planning process is making a plan for how your estate will be distributed to your survivors after your death. A Last Will and Testament is the most common method for making those plans.
A will is a legal document in which you (the testator) can name beneficiaries for specific assets in your estate, express your wishes for your children's guardianship and select an executor who will manage your affairs after your death. You may not name new beneficiaries in your will for assets that are jointly owned or are otherwise claimed by other legal contracts or insurance.
Assets that are administered by Washington wills are subject to applicable estate taxes, debt settlement and probate. Probate is the process of executing a will under court administration. The probate process involves assigning an executor (if one hasn't been named in the will), settling final debts and taxes and distributing the remaining estate to the beneficiaries.
Washington residents or nonresidents with property in Washington will have a state estate tax levied against their estate upon its distribution after death. The Washington estate tax is a privilege tax levied for the privilege of transferring property at the time of death. The testator doesn't pay the tax—instead, the executor or another fiduciary is responsible for paying estate taxes.
If your estate's gross actual or fair market value exceeds $2 million, an estate tax return must be filed even if no tax will be charged. The tax rate scales up on a bracket system and includes a flat dollar amount plus a percentage of the excess over your tax bracket's lowest estate net dollar value.
For instance, if your estate's taxable (net) worth is $4.5 million, you'd pay a flat fee of $550,000 plus $90,000 (18 percent of the excess value over $4 million). Your total estate tax would be $640,000.
If you die without a will, you are considered to have died intestate. Intestate assets—those which haven't already been claimed by survivorship or other legal contracts—are distributed according to Washington's descent and distribution laws. Under these laws, your family inherits portions or all of your estate according to who immediately survives you. If you die intestate, your assets will be inherited, in order of succession, by:
If you have no living family members, the state of Washington will escheat (or inherit) your estate.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified estate planning lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local estate planning attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.