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The Role of Wills and Advance Directives in Estate Planning

Updated: Feb 21







The Role of Wills and Advance Directives in Estate Planning


Estate planning is an essential part of everyone’s preparation. An estate plan is a plan that defines your beneficiaries, provides for the distribution of your assets after your death, and gives authority to someone to make decisions on your behalf. An estate plan consists of a variety of legal documents that together allow others to carry out your wishes if you become incapacitated or when you die. It is helpful to understand the role of wills and advance directives in estate planning.


What is an Estate Plan?


An estate plan is a plan that provides for the handling of your estate after you pass away or if you become unable to handle it on your own. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy or famous. Everyone has an estate. Your estate includes your property, money, and other assets that belong to you. An estate plan may include a variety of legal documents such as a will, advance directive, trust, power of attorney, and more. Your estate planning attorney will help design an estate plan that works best for your needs. 


Last Will and Testament


A will is one of the most important documents in an estate plan. A will is essential for all adults, yet most people do not have one. A recent study completed by Caring.com found that as many as two-thirds of Americans do not have a will. A will is also called a last will and testament. It is a document that provides for how you want your assets distributed after your death. A will is also used to name a guardian for your minor children. Every adult should have a will, regardless of the amount of wealth you have. Even if you have a trust, it should be accompanied by a pour over will.


Requirements of a Last Will and Testament


Washington State has some requirements for a last will and testament. In order to be legal, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator. The person making the will must be at least 18 years old. The will must also be signed by two witnesses. Generally, oral wills are not allowed. If you want to change a will, you must do so in writing and all the original formalities must be followed. You should always ensure that a loved one knows where to find a legal copy of your will.  


What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?


When someone dies without a will, the state laws of intestacy apply. Intestacy laws provide for how property and assets will pass after death. In Washington, the law provides for a living spouse or domestic partner to receive all of the person’s community property assets. If there are no surviving children or grandchildren, the estate will go to surviving parents and siblings. 


The rules of intestacy are somewhat complex as they address the relationships that may have existed with the deceased while alive. Things can become quite complicated when there are prior marriages, stepchildren, adopted children, and more. Therefore, it is always best to put a will in place that provides for the specific way you wish to distribute your assets amongst your loved ones. A knowledgeable attorney will assist you in making your will. 


Advance Directive


An advance directive is another integral part of an estate plan. An advance directive provides instructions for how to handle your needs if you are no longer able to do so. An advance directive comes into play if you become incapacitated and are not able to give directions for your care choices at the time. An advance directive is extremely helpful for your loved ones since they will know your wishes and will not have to try to make difficult choices at a critical time in your care. 


Types of Advance Directives


There are two main types of advance directives - power of attorney for health care and health care directive. Each has a specific role to play in an estate plan. 


Power of Attorney for Health Care - A power of attorney for health care gives a person you designate the legal ability to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. When you designate a person in charge of your care, you should let them know your wishes. Power of attorney is effective when you are unable to make decisions on your own. For instance, if you are going into surgery, your designated power of attorney will have the ability to make decisions until you are again able to do so. 


Health Care Directive - A health care directive is also called a living will. It is a document that allows you to provide specific directions regarding your health care. It goes into effect in the event that you are unable to make your wishes known. For instance, if you are incapacitated, the health care directive gives instructions to health care professionals regarding your care. 


The Benefits of Having an Estate Plan


An estate plan is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be followed after your death. It provides for your loved ones during a time that can be very emotional and stressful for them. If you do not have a will, you will lose the ability to designate beneficiaries. Your loved ones will have to go through a more difficult process if you do not leave a will or trust. Your wishes will not necessarily be followed if you do not have a will or trust. 


An advance directive gives your loved ones and doctors information about how you prefer to handle your health care if you are not able to tell them at the time. Without an advance directive, your loved ones will be left to make difficult decisions that may not be what you would have preferred. Both wills and advance directives are essential parts of a comprehensive estate plan. 


To learn more about estate planning, contact our legal team today at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning at (206) 502-4748 to schedule a consultation. 


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