January 21, 2019

Edmonds Guide to Estate Planning

A big part of adulting involves making well thought-out financial decisions – buying a home, planning for retirement, handling taxes, and deciding how you’d like your financial affairs handled once you’ve passed. Not exactly fun to think about, however, outlining your wishes and making a specific plan can ensure that your loved ones can navigate a difficult process with greater ease.

An estate plan goes beyond just creating a will yet many people neglect including a formal estate plan in their final wishes. It’s estimated that as many as 50% of American adults do not have an estate plan in place – and up to 64% of Gen Xers don’t even have a will in place. These high numbers are likely due to the uncomfortable nature of the task along with the fact that many people don’t think they have substantial enough wealth to create an actual estate plan.

We decided to ask two of Edmonds’ top estate planning attorneys, Athena Dickerson and Jody Reich with Dethlefs Sparwasser Reich Dickerson, PLLC, to give some insights into why estate planning is something everyone should consider.

Ed!: First, let’s cover the basics. What is the difference between a will and an estate plan?  

A Will, or Last Will and Testament, identifies family members, puts someone in charge as executor when someone dies, gives gifts to people and dictates exactly how you want things to go.

Sometimes charitable organizations are given cash gifts or family members are given certain amounts of money before a spouse or other beneficiary is given the rest of the estate. Things to consider are ages of children, whether they need a trust if they are young minors when a parent dies, and legal guardianship designations if both parents pass away.

An estate plan takes these things into account and also puts in place a comprehensive safety net that will not have to be updated for many years. Some examples of additional documents comprising an estate plan are Durable Powers of Attorney which come into effect when someone is incapacitated due to a medical condition, a healthcare directive, or “living will” which terminates life support if a person cannot be revived, and a community property agreement which is useful, if for example, real estate was purchased prior to marriage.

Ed!: Who should do estate planning? Is this something only people of a certain level of wealth or assets need to do?  

Most people should do estate planning. If you do not, statutes will automatically provide gifts to people who you may not want to include.

Making your wishes known in a legally enforceable Will or Trust is the only way to ensure this doesn’t happen. It also makes it much easier on surviving family members because things are not left to chance.

Ed!: Should someone always consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning or are there do-it-yourself ways to create an estate plan that is adequate?

The best way to avoid headache, conflict, and expense down the road is to hire a professional and do it right the first time.

Just like we hire mechanics to work on our cars and accountants to do our taxes, lawyers are crucial to the estate planning equation. This is especially because there are certain rules a person must follow to execute a Will and if they are not followed, the Will is not given effect. Our laws say strict compliance is required, and “almost right” doesn’t count.

Ed!: How can you ensure that money and assets will stay in the family for generations?

There are various ways to accomplish this. Working with your estate planning professional you can create trusts which allocate property over several generations.

We recommend filling out an estate planning survey which will help you start thinking about the ways you would like to organize your estate. In Washington, simple is better and because of that the expense is not extreme.

Ed!: What is the difference between a conservator and an executor?

An executor, also called personal representative in Washington, is in charge of liquidating and allocating your estate to heirs after death.

A conservator is a guardian who is appointed for a person who is legally unable to make decisions during their lifetime due to incapacitation.

The way to avoid this process is to execute Power of Attorney naming a conservator to help in the event you become unable to manage your own affairs.

Ed!: What is your best advice for someone who is at the beginning stages of estate planning? Any tips or specific things someone should consider?

The best thing to do is sit down and think about your wishes. Because most people don’t realize each category of decision they have to make to set things up long-term, we recommend you consult an estate planning attorney to get started. Ask questions, make sure you feel comfortable about the process and once you start, don’t put it away too long.

Athena Dickerson and Jody Reich are attorneys at Dethlefs Sparwasser Reich Dickerson, PLLC in downtown Edmonds and have been helping clients with their estate planning needs for 20 years. They welcome your call!

By Kelsey Foster, photography by Matt Hulbert

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