Estate Planning 101
Obviously, we have no control over our death. We do, however, have control over the expression of our wishes and a well drafted set of estate planning documents can avoid a lot of expense and confusion for the people you leave behind.
What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without a will or you draft a will that is not valid according to Washington law, in legal terms you’ll be considered to have died intestate and any property you have to pass on will be distributed according to what are called the laws of intestate succession. Your heirs will have to go to court to have themselves or another person appointed as Administrator to ensure that all property passes according to current intestate law.
What are some of the intestate succession rules in Washington State?
In Washington State, if you die while you are married or separated with children your spouse gets your half of community property and one half of separate property, while children take the other half of separate property in equal shares. If you die unmarried or divorced but have children, your children will receive your property in equal shares. Should you have no living children or spouse, but living parents your property will go to them. If you have no living parents, children, or spouse, your siblings will receive your property instead.
What happens to my minor children if I die without a will?
If you die with young children and the children have another living parent custody will most likely default to that parent unless that parents’ rights have been terminated. If you are a single parent and your child’s other parent has no legal standing, then the situation gets trickier. Ideally any person with minor children will want to draft a will that includes legal and financial guardianship provisions for any minor children.
No one wants to think about death. But failure to adequately prepare could have devastating consequences, leaving your loved ones to deal with difficult choices without an understanding of what YOUR wishes were.
No one wants to think about catastrophic illnesses or end of life issues. But for your care givers and loved ones, a set of simple documents can be prepared to avoid confusion about what you would want to do medically should you become unable to speak for yourself. In this article I discuss three types of documents used in Washington State that will help you make sure that your end of life wishes are carried out in the way that you desire. These documents can be drafted and stored in the Washington State Living Will Registry (website) so that your wishes are preserved.
Decide for yourself how you want to manage end-of-life issues
In the State of Washington a Living Will, or Health Care Directive, is a legal document used under two circumstances:
- When you have a terminal condition and life sustaining treatment would only prolong the process of dying, and;
- Where you are in an irreversible coma and there is no reasonable hope of recovery.
By specifying what your wishes would be in a living will you can direct your own medical care at the end of your life.
“Who will make decisions for me when I can’t?”
Another important health care document that everyone should have is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or Medical Power of Attorney. This document lets you name a “health care agent”, a person who you trust who is authorized to make medical decisions for you regarding treatment if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself.
Make your wishes known to your health care provider
The Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a form signed by your physician that takes your wishes as expressed in your living will and medical power of attorney and provides clear directions for medical orders regarding such specific medical interventions as antibiotics, fluid and nutrition, and life sustaining treatments should you become incurably ill.
Preparing these documents in advance ensures that in the event of a medical emergency or crisis your wishes will control the situation and you will lessen the stress of those around you.