Frequently Asked Questions About Wills, Estate Planning & Probate

What is Estate Planning?

As one accumulates property and/or family it becomes increasingly important to arrange for the disposition of one’s estate and care of family. Estate planning involves the creation of a last will and testament or revocable living trust as well as a review of what happens in the event that you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. It is also wise to consider health care directives (living wills) and to give direction for disposition of your remains (See the article on this site concerning health care directives and durable powers of attorney). Contact us to make an appointment to review your estate planning needs. In most cases The Meyer Law Firm is able to have an initial risk free consultation and from that give you fixed fee quote for the services we determine most appropriate for you. You can then decide to move forward or not. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What Are Some of the Estate Planning Issues That Should Be Considered?

 Why do I Need a Will ?

A last will and testament is an instrument which must be executed in accordance with specific guidelines required by statute which directs how property shall be distributed upon your death.

In it you appoint the person to handle your estate called a Personal Representative or an Executor. It can provide specific bequests or gifts and should designate how the residue of the estate (the remaining assets after distribution of the specific bequests less administration expenses) is disposed of. It is critical that a will be executed in accordance with the statutory requirements. There are many instances where persons tried to execute a will, but did not secure the proper witnessing. In such cases, the document cannot be given effect by a court and the estate is distributed to the heirs at law as specified by the state. Another issue often arises and that is what does the language used in the will mean. It is critical the dispositive language be clear, crisp and simple. The Meyer Law Firm has been preparing wills for over 35 years. We can assure you that your intended disposition is accomplished. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What Are Revocable Living Trusts and Should I Have One?

A revocable living trust is a trust which you create and fund while alive and you retain the power to revoke and amend it. It is typically a will substitute used to avoid probate or for some other reason. When you create a revocable living trust, you typically transfer all of your property into the trust and it provides for the disbursement of the property to your intended beneficiaries on your death. When you create a trust, you appoint a trustee (typically you appoint yourself) who is responsible for the management and control of the trust assets. A successor trustee is named who steps in to wind up the trust and complete the final administration on death. These trusts typically have all the same provisions which would be included in a will. They do not necessarily remove the need for a will because often property is acquired along the way which does not get placed into the trust. It is always advisable to execute a “pour over will” at the same time a trust is created. This is a will that pours everything over into the trust for disposition by the trust. The Meyer Law Firm has been preparing trusts for over 35 years. We can assure that you achieve your intended results. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

 Will My Estate Have to Pay Death Taxes (Estate Tax )?

In creating an estate plan, there is federal and state estate tax that should be considered. There is a threshold for the net value at which the estate begins to pay estate tax. Currently the state threshold is $2,000,000 and the federal threshold for 2013 is $5,250,000 with an escalator for years after 2013. The federal tax is not only based upon the amount at the time of death but also includes all gifts over $14,000 (initially $10,000 in the 20th century but increased annually now). The gifts do not get pulled into a decedents estate for the state estate tax calculation. There is an unlimited marital deduction and transfers between spouses are exempt from taxation. The unlimited marital deduction can be a trap causing a married couple to pay estate tax it would not incur without it. When an individual dies and leaves everything to his/her spouse there is more for the IRS and state to look to for tax on the spouse’s death. There is, however, now an election that the surviving spouse can make at the time of the first spousal death that mitigates this effect. It can also be mitigated by properly drafted wills or trusts. You need to be guided by, and the documents need to be drafted by a competent estate attorney. The Meyer Law Firm provides quality services in this area. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

 What Happens to my IRA and/or Pension?

It is not unusual to find that individuals have a majority of their wealth held in a qualified plan such as an IRA, 401-K, 403-B, Roth IRA, SEP IRA and the like. These are all considered non-probate assets, meaning they are distributed by the terms of the beneficiary you designate in the qualified plan. It is critical that the beneficiary designations in these plans be reviewed. Many qualified plans provide that if the beneficiary is deceased with an alternate named, the proceeds are to be paid to the estate. IRS regulations can cause an acceleration of the income taxes due in such instances. Also, there can be critical tax ramifications and/or benefits resulting from the receipt of these assets. These plans need to be factored in to any estate plan. The Meyer Law Firm can advise you and coordinate your beneficiary designation with your overall estate plan. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

 How Does Life Insurance Affect my Estate Plan?

When developing an estate plan, life insurance must also be considered. Life Insurance proceeds are not subject to income taxes but they are included in a decedent’s taxable estate for estate tax calculations. Life insurance proceeds are also immune from the claims of creditors. It is best that the proceeds not be distributed to the estate but go directly to the beneficiaries outside of probate. The Meyer Law Firm can advise you on the most beneficial way to provide for the disposition of your life insurance benefits.

It is not wise to attempt to do your own estate planning without the aid and assistance of a qualified and competent attorney. The Meyer Law Firm has been providing estate planning services for over 35 years. We can help you achieve your goals. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What is Estate Administration and Probate?

Estate administration is a generic term used to describe the process of administering the assets of one who has died and left an estate. It can refer to administering an estate in a probate proceeding or it can refer to the administration of a decedent’s trust after the death. We have been representing clients in probate and other estate administration for over 35 years. Contact us if you are in need of assistance. Call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What is Probate?

Probate is a court procedure for the administration of an estate of one who has died. Historically, the probate referred only to the proof of a will and administration of the will. The term now is generally used for all court involved estate administrations. If there is a will, it is considered a “testate estate.” If there is no will it is considered an “intestate estate”. In either circumstance, the court appoints someone to be the Personal Representative of the decedent. If there is a will, the person nominated to be executor in the will is typically appointed unless that person declines or is not qualified. If there is no will, the surviving spouse, surviving registered domestic partner or other next of kin are typically appointed. The general responsibility of the Personal Representative is to marshal (collect and inventory) all the assets belonging to the decedent, determine and give notice to all the creditors, pay the legitimate claims and distribute the remaining assets to the rightful beneficiaries. If you have questions about probate call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What Happens to My Assets When I Die?

In the case of a testate estate (there is a will) the assets are distributed as the decedent directed in the will. In the case of an intestate estate, the assets are distributed according to the laws of intestate succession adopted by the state. The laws of intestate succession for the state of Washington are found in chapter 11.04 RCW. Basically, RCW 11.04.015 provides that all community property is distributed to the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner and the separate property is divided ½ to the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner and ½ to the decedent’s children. If there are no children the surviving spouse receives ¾ of the estate and the parents or siblings of the decedent receive ¼. If you have questions about this issue call us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What if There is Not Enough to Pay Creditors?

The statute provides that if notice is properly given, the creditors have 4 months from the first date of publication to make a claim. If they do not make a claim they are generally barred from collecting on the debt. If the Personal Representative receives legitimate claims exceeding the value of the assets, there will be nothing to distribute to the beneficiaries or heirs. The Personal Representative’s duties are then to sell all the assets and to make sure that the creditors are paid the net proceeds on a pro-rata basis. Call us if you have problems with creditors of an estate at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What is Trust Administration?

Often times it is advisable that a person create a revocable living trust during their lifetime. In such instances, a probate is typically not required and, in many cases, intentionally avoided. When there is a revocable living trust a successor trustee steps in to act as trustee and basically performs the same function of a personal representative. That is, the trustee collects the assets, gives notice to creditors, pays the creditors and distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries designated in the trust document. In these cases there is no court involvement unless one or more of the beneficiaries has a complaint or dispute about the trust, trustee or disposition. Contact us about your questions with trust administration at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What Is a Will Contest or Estate Litigation?

The Meyer Law Firm, P.C. has been successfully involved in and litigated many cases where the will or trust is challenged as to its validity or the interpretation is disputed.

What can I do about my relative’s will — he or she was pushed to change it? I receive little or nothing in the will.

If you have questions about whether the decedent was unduly influenced to benefit someone in particular or the decedent was not competent to execute a will you should contact us to assist you. Email david@meyerlaw.net or phone (425) 455-1002.

What can I do if I am being challenged in a will?

Likewise, if you are the beneficiary of a will and are being challenged you should contact us.

What does the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act do?

In Washington, we have a special statute to settle disputes involving estates and trusts. It is found in chapter 11.96A RCW and is called the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA). It is intended to be an expedited procedure to resolve all estate disputes. The Meyer Law Firm has extensive experience in this area. Contact us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

One convenient part of TEDRA is that it allows all interested parties to enter into a written agreement to resolve the disputed or unclear issues of an estate or trust. It provides that in such event that agreement is filed with the court becomes the equivalent of a final court order. This means it is decided once and for all and the issues cannot be brought up again in court (other than interpreting the agreement). It is common practice in Washington that any agreement between beneficiaries and/or the Personal Representative or Trustee be put in writing in conformance with TEDRA requirements to avoid future conflict.

What can I do if the will is unclear?

In addition to challenges to a will or trust, there often are disputes arising about the intention of the decedent in the language of the will or trust. For example the document might say I want my house to go to my oldest son. When the person dies he/she has a house in Washington and Arizona and lives in each house 6 months of the year. Does the oldest son get both houses? If not, which house does he get? Often the beneficiaries all know what the decedent wanted and will agree to the disposition and sign a TEDRA agreement. Often they disagree and litigation ensues to ask the court to decide. Contact us if you are involved in such a circumstance. Contact us at (425) 455-1002 or email david@meyerlaw.net.

What can I do about the personal representative not doing his/her job?

Another area where TEDRA comes to play is when the Personal Representative or the Trustee is not doing his/her job correctly or not at all. In such instances an action may need to be brought for his/her removal or to have the court order some specific action be taken.

If you are involved in any of the scenarios stated above, contact us to assist you. Email david@meyerlaw.net or phone (425) 455-1002.