A common question I get when developing an estate plan with a client is “Does this mean my kids won’t have to go through probate?” I usually ask why they want to avoid probate. Everyone answers with “My friend/uncle/person had to go through probate and it took forever. They said it was an awful experience!” A little further prompting reveals that the person in question did not live in Washington State. The probate process in Washington is straightforward and quick compared to states where the probate process is so terrible that estate planning is centered around complete avoidance of it.
What is probate anyway?
Probate is the legal process by which an individual gets authorization from the court to administer a decedent’s estate. Whether or not a probate is needed does not hinge on having a will. Probate is sometimes still needed for individuals who died with no will. Probate is not mandatory in Washington. For most folks, the need for probate will hinge on needing Letters Testamentary under a will, or Letters of Administration when there is no will. These “Letters” are issues by the court to prove that you have the authority to act as fiduciary on behalf of the deceased person.
What about non-probate assets?
One way to streamline the transfer of property at your death is to use methods that cause the property to pass automatically upon death to your beneficiaries. An example of this is joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. Most married people title their real property this way, but it is not exclusively for married couples. At the first person’s death, property titled in this way automatically passes to the surviving joint owner(s). Another type of account that functions this way is a pay-on-death (POD) account designation.
How do I decide what to do?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning. My goal in estate planning is to tailor a plan to fit your individual concerns and unique needs. Want to know more?
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