This is the first of several blogs concerning estate planning. We will cover basic wills and trusts as well as power of attorneys and advanced health care directives.
A basic will is the document that will determine where your estate will go upon your passing. The basic will identifies the testator (the person whose will it is) and the testator’s family. A personal representative (or executor) is appointed as well as an alternate. The beneficiaries (or heirs) are also identified. The testator may also outlined other final requests such as directions concerning the funeral or burial.
Typically, spouses will leave their estate to each other than to their children equally. However, each client’s need will differ as to where they would like their estate to go. Examples including leaving certain amounts to charities or other relatives or directing the estate to a trust (more on this in a subsequent blog).
Washington has a statute, RCW 11.12.260, that allows a testator, after he or she has executed a will, to draft and sign a list that indicates certain gifts of personal property. That is, if the testator decided after his or her will has been executed that he or she wanted certain artwork to go to a certain grandchild or a certain dining set to go to a certain friend, they could draft a list of such gifts and sign and date it and attached it to the back of the will and it would be binding.
There are not too many requirements to make a will. First, the testator must be competent, know that he or she has property, and know that the property will pass to the beneficiaries of the will. (A reason that many people complete their estate planning earlier on in life is to avoid not being able to do it later if they suffer a medical condition or are otherwise declared incompetent).
The will also must be witnesses by two witnesses. Often people will attempt their own estate planning and draft their own will only to have it later declared invalid because they did not have two witnesses. It is best if the beneficiaries do not sign as witnesses to the will to avoid later claims of duress.