FAQs on Wills

Why do I need a will?

It is best to prepare for the “worst case scenario.”  Death may befall a person suddenly.

One can take great precautions against death and risk of harm – getting health insurance, eating kale and working out 5 days a week.  But, accidents happen and a will is a good precaution against you suddenly passing and the resultant family feud where siblings fight over the estate, or your beloved dog is given to the humane society.

So, get a simple will drafted, “just in case.”  Your heirs, and pets, will appreciate it.

What is a will?

A simple will specifies where your estate (i.e., net value of your money, house/condo, 401(k), specific personal belongings, pets, children, and electronic photos and social media accounts) go and/or are cared for upon your death.

A will is also known as “last will and testament.”

What is my estate?

Your net worth at the time of your death.  The math is: Assets (i.e., your legal rights, interest and entitlement to property) minus your liabilities (credit card debts, student loans, mortgage).

I have debts, does that go to my estate?

Yes.  Credit card debt, student loan debt, mortgages, and individuals or companies who are owed an unpaid past debt by you can file liens and take priority in claiming payment of their debts out of your estate.  This hashing out of claims would be done in a probate proceeding in court.  The net sum after all liabilities are paid is the residuary estate that will be distributed according to your stated wishes in the will.

Can a will provide tax shelters?

No.  Estates with a net worth over the mid-to high six-figures should consult a financial adviser to determine what tax protections may be provided by a living trust.  If a living trust is advisable, we can draft the living trust.

Who are my heirs?

People who survive you and have a legal right to your property or interest under Washington State estate laws.

Can I cut someone off from making a claim to my estate?

Yes.  Drafting a will allows you to make sure who does, and who does not get an interest in your estate.  If there is a an ex you know will try to make an unfounded claim to your estate, you can draft your will so that your estate’s specific property and residuary all go to others, who are specifically identified in your will, leaving nothing for an greedy ex to try to claim.  We’ve seen this many times in the media.

What if I have beneficiaries, do I still need a will?

Yes, because that named beneficiary on your IRA, 401(k) or pension is limited to benefiting from receiving just those specific accounts.

What if I have a quit claim deed to an intended recipient to a property, do I still need a will?

Yes, if you have additional assets to distribute.

Can’t I draft a will myself?

You can try.  In this DIY (do-it-yourself) era online, one can find a website that claims to guide people to do just about anything.  However, would you suture your arm torn open from a fall?  Would you replace your car’s windshield?  Probably not.  You would go to the licensed professionals.

What happens upon my death if I do not have a will?

A family member may file a petition with the local court where you passed to “open up your estate.”  Your belongings will then pass by “intestate” law in Washington State.  There is a funnel of distribution, where spouses get the majority of the estate.  So, if you have a sibling that you love and want to bequeath (give) specific belongings to, without a will, that would not happen.  Or, if you have a long-time partner, to whom you are not married or a registered domestic partnership, then the majority of your estate would go to any children you have, or if none, than your parents (if still living).  Your partner is not in the hierarchy of distribution under Washington state intestate law.

Do I need to name someone to administer my will?

Yes, and this person should be someone you trust and have known for a while.  This person is called the “personal representative” of the estate or the “executor.”  This person “executes” the administration of your will.  A properly drafted will should provide no issue for the executor to carry out his or her duties.  Unless, some disgruntled ex or unnamed beneficiary claims you verbally promised your Ferrari or lakeside cabin to them, but then failed to amend your will.  A court may be petitioned to hash out the validity of the claims made by your bummed out ex.