What is a tangible personal property list?
This is a specific list attached to a will. Think of this as a gift list. RCW 11.12.260(1) refers to a "writing that directs disposition of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed of by the will or trust other than property used primarily in trade or business." Tangible items are typically those that can be touched, held, or felt.
What items may I include on this list?
RCW 11.12.260(3) states that tangible personal property refers to "articles of personal or household use or ornament," such as:
This list must describe items and who receives the item(s) with reasonable certainty. This means you must be specific in how you describe the item.
According to the Washington state law, items such as the following do not constitute tangible personal property:
How do I create this list?
While there’s no legal requirement that you detail your wishes of where you want to be buried or who will speak at your funeral, it is best to have a roadmap that will guide your loved ones after your death. Writing down whether you want to be buried or cremated will make it easier for your loved ones to make those decisions. Likewise, stating your wishes will help remove any ambiguity about what to do with your remains. It is a good idea to talk with your family and friends about the disposition of your remains before your death. That way, they can look to written instructions and remember the conversations they had with you regarding your wishes.
Do I need to state my burial instructions in my will?
No. Generally, it is a good idea to state your wishes in a separate document. This might be called a Disposition of Remains document. According to RCW 68.50.160(1), a "person has the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or post-death consent of another person." Washington law further states that a "valid written document expressing the decedent's wishes regarding the place or method of disposition of his or her remains, signed by the decedent in the presence of a witness, is sufficient legal authorization for the procedures to be accomplished." RCW 68.50.160(1).
Yes, you can name a charity as a beneficiary in your will. Before you do so, here are some helpful pointers to ensure the process goes smoother after you pass away.
Identify the charity
Research the charity. Ensure that the charity's mission is in lines with your own values. When was the charity established? Will the charity be easily located by your personal representative after you die?
Name of the charity
Make sure the name you have on file is the actual name of the charity. Has the name changed over the years? If you have already named a charity in your will, double-check that the charity still exists or that its name has not changed.
Identify the Amount or Gift
Consider how much and what you want to give to the charity. Does the gift consist of real estate, cash, or a percentage of your estate?
Contact the charity
After you determine which charity you would like to name in your will, you can reach out to the charity to ensure that you have all the necessary details. For example, if you would like to gift real property, double-check with the charity that it can accept the gift of real property that you intend to leave it.
What is a POLST form?
POLST is short for Portable Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. A POLST is a green form that provides a summary of your treatment preferences in an emergency. It covers wishes regarding resuscitation and different levels of medical interventions.
Is completing a POLST form voluntary?
Yes. Completing a POLST form is voluntary.
How does a POLST form interact with my estate planning documents?
A POLST form does not replace a will, durable power of attorney for health care, or advance directive document. Instead, it helps health care providers honor your wishes in an emergency.
Can I revoke a POLST form?
Yes, a POLST form may be revoked. There are different methods of revoking the form.
Are there signature requirements?
In Washington, a medical provider (physician, ARNP, or PA-C) needs to sign the POLST form. You (or someone who can sign the form on your behalf) need to sign the form as well.
Where should I keep a POLST form?
A POLST form should be kept in a visible location. This form is meant to be accessible to emergency personnel. Some people put the form on their refrigerator or next to the front door.
Your agent is the person you name in your power of attorney document. This person will have the power to manage financial or healthcare matters on your behalf. Sometimes a power of attorney document will refer to an attorney-in-fact instead of an agent. These are two different terms for the same position.
A personal representative is the person you name in your will to manage your estate after you die. The personal representative performs several tasks on behalf of your estate, including talking with your heirs, determining the value of your estate, and distributing your estate's assets. A personal representative might also be referred to as an executor. The terms personal representative and executor are interchangeable.
The Dividing Line
The difference between an agent and a personal representative is when an agent and a personal representative can act. Agents have the power to manage financial or healthcare matters when you are alive but are incapacitated or unable to make decisions about your finances or healthcare. Personal representatives act only after your death. Stated differently, death is the dividing line delineating when agents and personal representatives act. Whatever authority and power your agent has ends with your death. Meanwhile, your personal representative has the power to act only after your death.
If a person passes away without making a will, this person (the decedent) is said to have died intestate. The property will be distributed according to the state's intestacy laws.
In Washington state, RCW 11.04.015 deals with the distribution of real and personal property when a person dies intestate. According to the statute, the decedent's surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner receives the community property. The statute outlines how much of the decedent's separate property the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner receives. This is based on whether the decedent is survived by issue (children or grandchildren), parent, or parents.
If no surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner exists, or for shares from the estate that are not distributable to the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, the shares are distributed to the decedent's issue. If there is no issue, then to the decedent's parent or parents. If the decedent has no surviving parent or parents, then to the issue of parents. If there is no issue of parents, then to the decedent's grandparent or grandparents. If the decedent has no living grandparent or grandparents, then to the issue of the grandparent or grandparents.
As the above shows, if a person dies without making a will, the property, whether personal or real, will not automatically escheat to the state.
Let's say you already have an estate plan in place. What are some considerations for when or why you should update your estate plan? Wills, trusts, health care documents, and powers of attorney should not be static documents.
It's a good idea to review your estate plan every two to three years to ensure that your wishes and intentions are still reflected in those documents.
After a major life event has occurred consider how that event impacts your estate plan. Reviewing your estate plan at these key moments ensures that you haven't overlooked anything and that your estate plan remains consistent with your wishes. It is a good idea to review your estate plan at life events such as the following:
If you recently got married, you might want to name your spouse as personal representative, agent for powers of attorney, or trustee for any trusts you might establish.
After a divorce, previous estate planning documents might need to be revised or revoked.
Children or grandchildren
If you welcome a new child into your family, you might want to consider who will be named guardian if both you and your spouse die. Perhaps a minor child is now an adult or you now have grandchildren. Such changes warrant a review of your estate plan.
The Death of a Loved One
The death of a loved one might mean that the deceased, whom you named as a beneficiary, can no longer inherit. Check your will, trust, or other estate planning documents to ensure that the named persons can still inherit.
Financial Status Change
You might have experienced a significant change in the value of your personal assets, business, or real estate. If this is the case, assess your financial status for possible tax planning that needs to occur before your death.
The above examples are not a comprehensive list. Instead, they are ideas that provide a few examples of when reviewing your estate planning documents is a good idea.
What is probate?
After a person dies, their assets need to be distributed to their heirs. Probate is the legal process of figuring out what assets the deceased owned and then transferring those assets to the heirs.
Is probate always required?
No. Whether or not probate needs to be opened depends on many factors. Probate is not always necessary, but in some situations it may be required.
Can probate be opened even if the deceased did not have a will?
Yes. If there is no will, the person appointed by the court distributes the decedent’s assets according to Washington's intestate laws.
How is a personal representative involved in the probate process?
A personal representative is a person (typically named in a will) that the court appoints to pay bills and taxes, deal with the deceased person’s belongings, and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.
What are probate assets?
Probate assets can include real estate titled in the deceased person's name, financial accounts with no beneficiary designations, cash, vehicles titled in the deceased person's name, and tangible personal property owned by the deceased.
What are non-probate assets?
Washington state statute defines what non-probate assets are. Typically, these are assets that are not distributed through a will and that are distributed to beneficiaries according to other documents. Some examples include financial accounts that are held jointly with right of survivorship or have a transfer on death or paid on death designation, property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, or real property conveyed through a transfer on death deed.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document in which you describe how what happens to your property after your death.
Who can make a will?
Any person may make a will as long as that person is at least 18 years of age and is of sound mind.
Can I name a personal representative in my will?
Yes. The will should also name a personal representative. This person will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will after you die.
What makes a will valid in Washington state?
To be valid in Washington, a will must be in writing, signed by you, and then witnessed and signed by two or more competent witnesses in your presence.
Does Washington state law require wills to be notarized?
No. However, your will should include a self-proving affidavit.
Who is a competent witness?
Your two witnesses need to be over 18 years of age. They should not be individuals named in your will. RCW 11.12.160(2) states that "the fact that the will makes a gift to a subscribing witness creates a rebuttable presumption that the witness procured the gift by duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence."
Can I later revoke my will?
Yes, you can revoke your will.
Can I change my will once I have made it?
Yes, you can change your will using a codicil.
What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances is a document that lets you choose the person you want to make financial decisions when you are unable to make those decisions yourself. That person is called your Agent.
I do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances. What happens if I don't make one?
This can get complicated really fast because of how property is categorized in Washington state. Generally, for property that you and your spouse own, your spouse may be able to make decisions regarding that property. For property that only you own it is likely that a conservator will need to be appointed.
Who should I appoint to be my Agent?
A Financial Agent can be a friend or relative you trust to make important decisions. This individual needs to be over 18 years of age. To select an appropriate Financial Agent, review the person's strengths and weaknesses when handling money and assets. You can also appoint a professional fiduciary as an Agent.
What kinds of decisions can my Agent make?
Your Financial Agent makes decisions regarding your finances and property.
Can I change my mind about having a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances?
You can revoke your Durable Power of Attorney for Finances document at any time. However, revocation is subject to specific notice requirements.
Ruth A. Harper
I'm a Pacific Northwest attorney, and my focus is on estate planning and elder law. My interest in these fields grew out of my experience with aging relatives and family members with special needs.
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