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Why do I need a Last Will and Testament?

With a valid Last Will and Testament, you are able to accomplish the following:
Name your beneficiaries and the specific items or amounts to be inherited by each. If you do not have a will, your estate will be distributed pursuant to the guidelines of RCW 11.04.015. The guidelines provide for the distribution of your assets in specific proportions to specific next of kin. These may not accurately reflect your wishes.
Appoint guardians for your children.
Establish a trust for the benefit of your children and set a specific age in which they are able to close the trust and withdraw the remaining funds.
Establish trusts for tax planning purposes.
Establish alternative plans in the event you should be predeceased by an heir or designee.
Provide instructions for your funeral/burial.
Make specific bequests of your personal property.

Who may make a will?

Anyone who is over the age of 18 and is of sound mind. It is not necessary to be a resident of the State of Washington.

What makes a will valid?

With limited exceptions, a will must be in writing. It must be signed by the person making the will and two witnesses must sign a statement acknowledging the signature of the person making the will. The statement signed by the witnesses should be notarized with both witnesses and the testator (the person making the will) signing in the notary public’s presence. The witnesses should not be beneficiaries under the will.

What does a community property agreement do?

A community property agreement is a commonly used estate planning tool for transferring a spouse’s estate outside of probate. A community property agreement accomplishes this by converting all currently owned and after acquired property from separate property to community property. Upon the death of one of the spouses, all of his/her property, which is now community, vests in the other spouse.

What are the benefits of a community property agreement?

A community property agreement is an inexpensive tool to transfer assets after death without the necessity of probate.

What are drawbacks of a community property agreement?

A community property agreement cannot be rescinded by one spouse. Both parties have to agree and execute a document revoking the community property agreement.

A community property agreement may control over other estate planning documents such as insurance beneficiary designations, pension plan designations, joint tenancy designations, and trusts established under wills.

A community property agreement usually (but not always) converts all of your separate property to community property now — not at the time of your death. In the event of divorce, all property would be considered community property. Even though the agreement was executed for estate planning purposes, it may be considered a valid agreement for characterization of property. This could be very detrimental to one spouse who had substantial separate property prior to marriage.

Who should execute a community property agreement?

Persons with a non-taxable estate, no children by a prior marriage, and absolute trust that the surviving spouse will act according to plan.

If I sign a community property agreement, do I need a will?

Yes. Especially if you plan on moving. Some states may not recognize a community property agreement from Washington State. In addition, wills address issues beyond simply the transfer of property.

If you didn’t find the answers you’re looking for in our Estate Planning Q&A sections, please contact us for further information.