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Estate Planning

What is an estate plan? An estate plan is a set of legally binding documents that set forth your wishes about what will happen to you, your property, and your minor children in the event of your disability or death. Estate plans are not just for the wealthy or the elderly, they benefit everyone. A properly drafted estate plan speaks for you when you can no longer speak for yourself, whether temporarily or permanently.

There are two types of estate plan:

  •  The plan you create for yourself based on your wishes, values, and goals, and the individual circumstances of your family and finances; and
  • The default plan the state legislature created for you based on broad assumptions about what people who are similarly situated (i.e. married with children) would want.

 Everyone has an estate plan—whether they like it or not. 

A good estate plan can do all of the following:

 Transfer all your property to the people you want to receive it after your death;

  • Avoid unnecessary payment of estate, income, or gift taxes;
  • Protect your loved ones' inheritance from their potential problems, ex. with creditors or future ex-spouses;
  • Protect assets for your surviving spouse;
  • Prepare for your potential inability to make financial or medical decisions for yourself; and 
  • Prevent conflicts among your loved ones.

 The following documents are the key components of an estate plan.


A will:

  • Is a binding legal document that gives your property to the people or charities you choose after your death;
  • Can name a guardian for your minor children;
  • Must be executed with certain formalities in order to be binding;
  • Names a trusted person who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and paying your debts after your death;
  • Must be admitted to probate in order to become legally effective;
  • Can establish various testamentary trusts to provide for minors or otherwise protect and preserve assets going forward; and
  • Should be a part of any estate plan, even if you have a revocable living trust or community property agreement.

Durable Powers of Attorney

 A durable power of attorney:

  • Names a trusted person, called the agent or attorney-in-fact, to act on your behalf and manage your property if you become temporarily or permanently disabled;
  • May be used as a mere convenience, or to avoid the cost and burden of establishing a guardianship;
  • Lists the kinds of things your agent can do on your behalf with your property;
  • May be used to name guardians for your minor children, or even for yourself if it becomes necessary; and
  • Can be effective immediately, or only if you become disabled (springing). It is called durable because it remains in effect should you become disabled.

Medical Powers of Attorney

Another durable power of attorney, the medical power of attorney names a trusted person who can make medical decisions for you if you are temporarily or permanently unable to do so. For many people this is their spouse or other closest relative who would have the legal right to make those decisions anyway. But for others, the statutory defaults do not meet their needs. More than one person may have the same statutory legal right (i.e. a single person with parents or multiple siblings), or the person with the legal right may not be who they would choose to make the decision, either because a non-relative is closer to them, or because they do not share the same beliefs and values with their closest relatives. Or they may simply have one person who would be best suited to communicating with doctors and making difficult medical decisions in an emotionally stressful time.

Directives to Physicians or Living Wills or Advanced Directives

The living will expresses your wishes about what medical treatments you do and do not want to receive if you are near death, in a terminal or permanently unconscious state. This document can save your family the agony of trying to decide what it is you would have wanted. And it can ensure that you do not have to endure difficult medical procedures that you do not want, and that may only prolong your suffering. Alternatively, you may use this document to assure that you will receive treatment. Treatments that may be limited in a living will include: intubation, CPR, artificial nutrition, artificial hydration, and a respirator.

HIPAA Authorizations

This is a document that assures your named agent access to your medical records, usually for the purpose of determining whether you are still competent or whether springing provisions of a power of attorney, or successor trustee provision are in effect. The authorization may be included in a power of attorney, but a separate document can be useful for people who want a shorter document to provide to health care personnel while maintaining greater privacy.

Revocable Living Trusts

 A revocable living trust is a trust that you establish during your lifetime, and that you can revoke at any time before your death. Property that you place in the RLT will pass to your designated beneficiaries at your death without going through probate. RLTs can give you greater control over your assets, avoid the time and expense of probate, and give you greater privacy. They may also be used as a complement to a durable power of attorney to assist in managing your financial affairs and avoiding guardianship. RLTs are more complex and require more maintenance than a will. To be effective in avoiding probate, you must make sure that all your current property, and all property you acquire in future, is placed in the name of the trust, not your individual name. For this reason, we always combine a RLT with a pourover will (a simple will that basically says I give all my property to my revocable living trust). Because of the added expense and complexity of the RLT, and because both Washington and Texas probate can be done quickly and relatively expensively, they are not for every person. RLTs are a good idea if you own real property in multiple states, particularly if one of those states is California.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust is a fund you set aside to ensure proper care of your pet after your death or, if funded during your lifetime, your disability. Pet trusts can be used to provide financial resources to people who might otherwise find it a financial strain to care for your pet. Would your chosen pet guardian be taking on medical expenses? Would they have to pay a large pet deposit, or perhaps even move to avoid size or breed restrictions? A pet trust can keep your beloved pets from being a burden to your family—and can help them avoid being surrendered to a shelter. You can also describe the standard of care your pet is to receive. An alternative to a pet trust is to leave your pet to a person in your will, together with a specific bequest of funds to pay for care of the pet. The difference with a pet trust is that if the person doesn't care for the pet, they don't get the money. 

Community Property Agreements

A community property agreement can be used to characterize property as either separate or community, and to transfer property from the first spouse to die to the surviving spouse outside of probate. A typical three-prong community property agreement might say "All property we currently own is community property. 2. All property we acquire in future will be community property. and 3. At the death of either of us, all property becomes the property of the survivor."



Probate is the court-supervised process of settling the estate (property) of a deceased person. Both the estates of people who die with a will (testate) and without a will (intestate) will generally go through the probate process. There are certain exceptions for small estates or for people who have transferred all their property to a revocable living trust or to another type of nonprobate asset. These nonprobate assets, such as IRAs, 401Ks, joint and survivor accounts, etc. will pass "outside" of probate. That is, they pass based on a beneficiary designation, rather than according to your will or by the laws of intestate succession. Typically there are 4 general stages to every probate: 

  1. Admitting the will (if there is one) and appointing a personal representative (executor); 
  2. Determing and collecting or safeguarding the property of the deceased; 
  3. Determining and paying debts of the deceased; and 
  4. Distributing the deceased's estate to the heirs or beneficiaries. 

Uncontested Probate

The probate process in both Washington and Texas can be relatively quick and painless. Going through probate can also provide significant benefits, such as cutting off claims of creditors. Smaller estates can also take advantage of a simplified process. (Probate services may be limited to the greater Seattle area.)  

Fiduciary Guidance

As a personal representative or executor, you have important duties to perform and your actions are held to a very high standard. If you prefer to handle the majority of the probate process yourself, but need advice on specific matters, please contact me.

Business Startup

Choice of Entity

Formation (Incorporation)

Governing Documents

Maintaining Corporate Formalities

Buy-Sell Agreements

Business Succession Planning