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Seattle, WA 98103

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Wills and Probate

When you die, you leave behind your worldly possessions and your loved ones. A Will allows you to make sure your worldly possession are used to take care of your loved ones after you pass. A Will is a document that directs how your estate will be distributed after death. And a Will can state who you want to care for your children after you die, and who you would want to have control over any finances you leave for your children’s benefit. It's never too early to make a Will so that, if something was to happen to you, your loved ones would be secure.

Estate Planning for Washington Residents

Joyce Schwensen is an experienced Washington estate planning lawyer who can help you ensure your loved ones are taken care of after you pass away. Joyce Schwensen will carefully and diligently review your estate issues so that your wishes are accurately conveyed and respected upon death.

In addition to a well-drafted Will, you can protect yourself and your loved ones by signing powers of attorney, giving authority to someone close to you to handle your finances and your medical decisions if you become unable to handle those matters for yourself. This is particularly important if you are unmarried or widowed.

Whether married or not, it is important that these documents be signed while you are still mentally capable, because if you become mentally unable to understand the documents, then your loved ones will not be able to take care of your affairs without asking a court to appoint a guardian for you. This is an expensive and complicated process that can usually be avoided by signing proper powers of attorney before they are actually needed.

Call the Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen today at (206) 367-1065 to arrange for preparation of a complete packet of estate planning documents, including a Will, powers of attorney, and a “Living Will” if desired.

Joyce Schwensen is based in Seattle.


Washington Estate Planning and Probate Information Center


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Division of Assets After Death Under Washington Law

Many people wonder if they really need a Will — doesn’t their family just get everything if they don’t have a Will? The answer is not entirely simple. Under Washington law, if a person dies without leaving a Will, that person is said to have died "intestate." His or her estate is divided in a manner prescribed by Washington state law. If there is a  surviving spouse, he or she gets all of the community property. The way the deceased person’s separate property is divided depends on whether they are survived by children, grandchildren, parents or other relatives.

If the deceased person has children or grandchildren, called "issue," a certain portion of the separate property, or, if there is no surviving spouse, the entire estate, is divided among them. If there are no issue, but there are surviving parents, the estate goes up to them.  If there are no issue or parents, the estate goes to the decedent's siblings, or to the deceased person’s nieces or nephews if a sibling has died. If there are no surviving siblings, nieces or nephews, the estate goes to any surviving grandparents. If there are no surviving grandparents, the estate goes to the grandparent's surviving issue. If there are no relatives the estate may pass to, the estate escheats, meaning it goes to the state.

This complicated scheme can open the door to disputes, especially if the decedent had significant separate property. Having a well-prepared Will ensures that your assets are left to those who you want to receive them, and that your wishes are clear so that disputes can be avoided.


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Drafting a Will

A Will is a written document that sets a plan for how a person's estate will be divided after his or her death. A person writing a Will can determine how his or her estate will be divided, and divide it in a manner most appropriate to his or her life and loved ones.

If, for instance, you have multiple children and are aware that one may need more assistance after you die, you can choose to leave that child a greater share of your estate. Or, you may wish for your entire share to go to your spouse, or none of it.  You do not have to give reasons for your decision, either. The estate is split however you designate it.

You can leave a portion or all of your estate to a charity or foundation that is important to you. You can bequeath certain items to friends. Some people even opt to leave part of their estate to their pets.

It is extremely important to realize that when the instructions you put into your Will are carried out, you will not be available to explain what you intended. That's why it's in your best interest to have a qualified Washington attorney help draft your Will. Your attorney can help make sure your Will correctly conveys your wishes and avoids ambiguities that could lead to disputes in probate court.

And a Will serves other purposes as well. In a Will, you can decide who you want to handle your estate after you die, and give them the authority to make decisions without seeking court approval, except for major issues. You can also provide that they will not have to post an expensive bond to protect your heirs and creditors from the possibility of their not properly handling your estate. None of these issues are clearly provided for if you don’t have a Will, especially if you are unmarried or widowed at the time of your death. By having a Will prepared while you are mentally capable and able to make sound decisions, you protect your loved ones from facing legal complications after your death.


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Ensuring Your Children are Cared For

A Will does not only divide an estate. It can makes plans so that people who depend on your during your life will be taken care of after you die. If you die intestate, it might be uncertain who would become guardian of your children.

In a Will, you can name a guardian for any children or dependents you may have. You should carefully select the guardian, as they will be raising your children. Think about your wishes for how your children will be raised, and who will be the best at following yoru wishes.  It's important to first speak to the person you wish to serve as guardian, to ensure he or she is willing to serve.

Additionally, you can make plans for a trust to ensure that your children's financial needs are taken care of. You may set the terms of the trust and name the trustee.  Assets are placed into the trust, and the trustee pays for your children’s expenses under the terms of the trust. The trust assets may be used to pay for certain expenses, like college or medical care, provide monthly payments or make any other method of payment.

Children are not the only people whose future you can secure. You can also assist elderly parents who depend upon you, or other friends or family members.


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Washington Probate Process

After a loved one passes away, the survivors are faced with the responsibilities of handling probate. Many people don’t really understand what probate is, and some think it is a terrible, expensive and complicated process.

Fortunately, in Washington state, most probates are fairly simple. One requirement that it is important to be aware of is that if you have possession of an original Will, you are required to file it with the court or give it to the person named in the Will as “personal representative” or “executor” within thirty days of the death. The personal representative or executor must file the original Will with the court within forty days after the death.

A probate is required in Washington if the deceased person’s “probate” assets at the time of death included Washington real estate or any had a value of over $100,000. Even if a probate is not required, it may be useful to file certain documents with the court in order to be able to transfer assets into the names of the survivors. Someone needs to be appointed by the court to be the “executor” or “personal representative”. If the deceased person left a Will naming who they wanted to handle this responsibility, the court will usually honor that as long as it is either the surviving spouse or the surviving spouse agrees to the person named in the Will.

The responsibilities of the personal representative are to file the Will with the court, go through the deceased person’s papers to determine whether they have creditors, arrange to have a notice to creditors published in a local newspaper, arrange to file final tax returns for the deceased person, pay any debts the deceased person has, and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.

All of these can be done without having to get court approval for every decision, so long as the deceased person left a Will saying this is what they wanted, or if the personal representative is the surviving spouse or only living beneficiary of the deceased person.

Deciding whether a probate is required, and walking through all the steps involved, is much easier to handle with the help of an experienced probate attorney. Joyce Schwensen handles probate cases in King and Snohomish Counties. If you have recently lost a loved one, and want capable and compassionate help in handling your loved one's affairs, call the Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen today at (206) 367-1065 to schedule an appointment.


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Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen | Washington Estate Planning and Probate Attorney

We never know what lies around the corner, so it's important to act as soon as possible to make sure that if something were to happen to you, your loved ones would be taken care of. Washington Wills and probate lawyer Joyce Schwensen can help you draft a Will and other important documents that accurately reflects your wishes. And if your loved one has recently passed away, Joyce Schwensen can help you through the steps necessary to put their wishes into effect. Call the Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen today at (206) 367-1065 to set up a consultation.

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