Making a will is often one of those tasks people find a reason to put off. However, life can take unpredictable turns. Planning your property disposition in advance can save your loved ones many headaches and ensure your estate distribution occurs in accordance with your wishes.
Estate planning can begin with making a will, but can also include other legal mechanisms such as trusts. An experienced attorney can listen to your concerns and advise you on the best solutions for your circumstances.
The court appoints an administrator
When a Washington state resident passes away without leaving a will, state intestacy law steps in to govern the distribution of the estate. The process typically begins when the probate court appoints an administrator, who will inventory the estate and manage distribution.
Once the administrator takes stock of all the estate's assets, he or she needs to identify and pay any creditors. This can mean making a full payment or negotiating a debt settlement. If the estate owes more than it has, the administrator may need to work out a pro-rata arrangement to pay each creditor a proportionate share.
After paying the estate's debts, the administrator will proceed to distribute the estate according to the provisions of Washington's intestacy laws.
If there is a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner and no children, parents or siblings, the spouse or partner gets everything. If there are surviving parents or siblings of the decedent, the spouse gets all the marital (also called community) property and 75 percent of the decedent's separate property, with the remaining 25 percent going to the parents or siblings. If there are surviving children of the decedent, the spouse gets all the community property and half of the separate estate, with the other half going to the children.
In the absence of a spouse, the law distributes the decedent's property among his or her children. If no children exist, the law sets forth the calculations for distribution to nearest surviving blood relatives.
In addition to ensuring distribution according to your wishes, making a will and using other types of estate planning instruments can help you address tax concerns and appoint a specific person to manage the estate.