As a cornerstone of your estate plan, a Will is the legal framework that is designed to capture your wishes and address your individual needs. At Three60 Law Group we work with you to craft a Will that expresses your wishes, places realistic expectations on your executor, and functions efficiently within the probate process.
After putting your Will in place, our estate planning process is designed to ensure open and candid communication over time to enable appropriate updates on a regular basis or as your circumstances change. Whenever you want to chat about your estate plan, pick up the phone or tap out an email, and let’s talk.
Our goal is to ensure that your Will continues to meet your needs throughout your lifetime, and provides for the effective administration of your estate when the time comes.
Probate & Trust Administration
The death of a loved one is very emotional, yet at the same time families often have many legal and financial questions and concerns. Accessing funds and transferring assets after a person dies can be challenging and may require a court proceeding called probate.
A probate is a court process that ensures that the deceased person’s property is distributed according to the terms of their will or by a statutory scheme if there is no will. The Washington State probate process is generally less complicated and less expensive than it is in other states because the role of the court is usually minimal if a well-drafted Will is in place.
We view the navigation of the probate process as a partnership between your Executor and our firm. We understand the process, the legal framework, and the potential pitfalls. We guide the Executor through what can be a complex and troubling time. In doing so, we never forget that we are working with real people who have lost a loved one. We work with as much compassion as possible and try to move the process along at a pace that will still allow your family to grieve.
Sometimes a probate can be avoided by the use various methods, including the proper implementation of a revocable trust to manage your estate upon death. Although the administration of a revocable (living) trust upon death is designed to avoid the court process of probating a decedent’s will, the tasks involved in the administration of a trust upon death as are similar to those involved in the probate of a will. We will assist your Trustee in fulfilling the terms of your trust upon your passing to assure that your wishes, as expressed in the trust, are fulfilled in a timely, lawful, and efficient manner.
Our goal is to honor your intentions while dealing with your family and heirs in a helpful and supportive way.
Estate and Gift Tax Planning
An essential element of an estate plan is tax planning. The federal estate can be levied after a person’s death. The federal estate tax exemption amount for 2023 is $12,920,000 for an individual and $25,840,000 for a married couple with the use of election (called a “portability” election) or certain planning methods in their estate documents. Because of the large federal exemption amount, many couples feel that they will not have to worry about paying estate taxes.
In some cases, this may be true. However, if you reside in Washington State, and if you have assets (including retirement accounts and life insurance death benefits) approaching or exceeding $2 million, you could have a false sense of confidence. Washington has a separate estate tax with much lower exclusion amounts: $2.193 million per person, with no ability for a married couple to elect portability to double that. However, with a tax-sensitive estate plan, a married couple can effectively pass double the Washington State exclusion amount to their loved ones without exposure to Washington State estate tax.
Another way to help mitigate your estate tax exposure is to implement a gifting program to loved ones or charity. Currently, the gift tax exclusion is $17,000 per recipient per year. If you make lifetime gifts over that amount, however, while it reduces your federal estate tax exemption amount, the impact on your Washington State exclusion amount is extremely limited.
At Three60 Law Group, we can help you understand, evaluate the options and take full advantage of your estate and gift tax exemptions while maintaining full compliance with the changing tax laws.
A Trust is an agreement that empowers a manager (called a trustee) named by you to hold and use the assets owned by the trust to accomplish the purposes you identify within the trust. Sometimes, a Trust can be an effective part of an estate plan, along with a Will, for the efficient administration of your assets upon death. Additionally, trusts can be utilized to accomplish various tax-savings goals, or manage property for a beneficiary who cannot (or should not) be in charge of that property. There are many different types of trusts—including those you make and activate now, and those that are not utilized until your passing. Crafting an appropriate Trust requires a thorough understanding of you as a person—your core principles and values—as well as the technical complexities of trust and tax law. It is this combination of serving you at this very personal level and technical expertise where Three60 Law Group excels.
Powers of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a document in which you select another to make health care and property decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This document is, in our opinion, of co-equal in importance to your will or your trust. The powers you grant can be extensive and are critical to the continuation of your personal matters without court interference.
What distinguishes our approach to the preparation of a Power of Attorney document is our commitment to you as an individual, and our role as your advisor, instead of simply the drafter of a “standard” document. We have the difficult conversations required to educate you about the potential issues you are facing or could face over time. We help you understand how the document works, the powers it grants, and the consequences if the Power of Attorney doesn’t function properly or is misused.
Our goal is to ensure that the Power of Attorney document allows those you trust to help you, in the way you want, when you need it most.
Health Care Directives
A Healthcare Directive is your statement to your physicians as to what measures you wish them to take (or not take) if you are in a permanent vegetative state, or if you are terminal and death is imminent, and you cannot express your wishes.
The challenge in creating a Healthcare Directive (also known as a “living will”) is the knowledge that this document will only be necessary if things go very wrong in your future. Most people just do not like to discuss these things, whether with their estate attorney or with their family members. We understand that difficulty and will do our best to gently but thoroughly work through the issues presented by Healthcare Directives. We aim to document your intentions so your loved ones can support your advance decisions with the knowledge that they are honoring your wishes.
Representation of Fiduciaries
A fiduciary is a person who has a legal relationship of trust with another, and has a strict legal duty to act in that person’s best interests. In Washington, a fiduciary may be a guardian, personal representative of an estate, trustee of a trust, or attorney in fact under a power of attorney.
Fiduciaries have many important responsibilities, which are often complex. Unfortunately, serving as a fiduciary can often evoke the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” If you have agreed to act in a fiduciary capacity, our team at Three60 can help you understand your role and responsibilities and assist you in performing them in a way that will give you the sense of relief that comes from having an experienced team on your side.
Charitable Gift Planning
If giving back is part of building your legacy, we can help you. As your family lawyer, we can design a gifting strategy as part of your estate plan to continue to support the causes and passions you championed during your lifetime. We can also help you explore ways in which your other financial goals can be combined with lifetime charitable gift planning to minimize estate tax and to provide you with income tax benefits now.
A well-crafted charitable gifting strategy can be a very gratifying part of your estate plan, knowing that resources will go to efforts that are close to your heart.
Our goal is to ensure that the causes you believe in continue to enjoy your support.
Family Business Matters
The majority of businesses in the United States are small or family-owned. In business, careful planning and good decision-making can be the difference between failure and success. Some families find that forming a family business to hold certain assets is the best way to provide organized management. These family businesses can also be used to help teach business skills and values to family members in the next generation. Here again, it is important to understand your goals, the people involved and the nature of the assets.
An ownership interest in a business is often a person’s most valuable asset but it can also be one of the more complex assets to transfer. Succession planning for retirement or death is essential. Our goal is to make sure that entities are set up to carry out your wishes.
Marital, Co-Habitation, and Property Agreements
Couples use property agreements to clearly designate—in advance—how assets are to be distributed under certain circumstances. This planning up front means less court involvement down the line, which saves time, money, and frustration. Property agreements can also provide a comprehensive plan for managing assets and can serve to limit interference from third parties.
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are contracts made between spouses governing how their property will be managed during their marriage, or distributed upon divorce, separation, or death.
Couples who cohabitate without marriage may also be well advised to sign agreements that clarify property division in the event of death or separation. Washington Courts may assign property rights as though the cohabitating couple were married. Having an agreement that identifies property ownership and distribution can avoid costly and emotional litigation for the couple, or for the surviving family.
Our goal is to clearly identify your assets, ensure that all parties involved make sound and informed decisions, and provide a structure to fairly resolve issues that may arise in the future.
Planning for Pets
So often animals are left behind without having been considered in estate planning. Many end up in shelters due to failed arrangements or agreements. As a part of your estate plan, we encourage you to consider how your fur babies will be cared for if you become incapacitated or upon your death. Your pets have earned a special place in your heart, so ensuring that someone else will care for them when you no longer can, and the caregiver has the proper funds, is important. We can help. It can be something very simple, like enrolling your pet in a guardianship program sponsored by a local animal welfare organization so that your pet can be re-homed in a caring and expeditious manner. Alternatively, if you have a person who has agreed to care for your pet, you may want to include that information in your estate planning documents and consider leaving that person some funds to defray the costs of caring for your pet. Having a back-up plan if that person cannot take your pet is also important.
Some pet parents like the idea of creating a pet trust for Fido or Fluffy. This type of trust can guarantee that your wishes for your beloved pet are carried out, with money set aside for their care. This can be particularly helpful if your pet has to be re-homed through a local animal shelter or rescue in the event that a friend or family member cannot commit to your pet’s care.
You can create a pet trust in a will or in a separate trust document. In a pet trust, you can name someone as your pet’s caregiver, appoint a trustee to manage funds you set aside, and provide instructions to guide the trustee in making distributions. The trustee is legally responsible for making sure that the caregiver uses the money according to your instructions. This might include food, veterinary care, medications, and any other costs over your pet’s life. If there are funds remaining when your pet passes, a remainder beneficiary is named, including, if you like, an animal welfare organization.
Many of you know that our office has a team of furry, four-legged ambassadors, so we understand the importance of caring for those loved ones as part of your plan. We understand that they are more than just pets–they are family.
Disclaimers: This material is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this material does not create an attorney-client relationship. The opinions expressed here are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinion of the firm or any other individual attorney. Any tax advice contained in this communication is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties.