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Probate & Estate Planning Services

Geiszler Kelly offers comprehensive Probate and Estate Planning services. We are here to help you and you loved ones navigate will planning, inheritance law, and the probate process in Washington State.

Do you have questions that aren’t answered here? 
We offer free consultations up to 1/2 hour. 
 

Probate

The legal process of carrying out the directions in a will, or in an estate without a will, transferring property and paying debts.  An attorney prepares documents called pleadings and files them with the court.  The court enters an order starting the probate process, appointing a personal representative and ordering that Letters be issued.  In some states the probate process is expensive, lengthy and cumbersome – but in Washington it is relatively short and straight forward.

 

As your probate attorney, we guide you through the legal process to settle the affairs of the decedent.

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Estate Planning

We can assist with creating a will, trust, or other estate planning documents, to ensure your loved ones are taken care of and make the process as seamless as possible after your death.

Frequently Asked Questions about Wills, Probate, & Estate Planning

  • What is a will?
    A Will, or Last Will and Testament, is a document that directs what to do after you pass. It can direct who will receive your assets, who should care for your children, your funeral preferences, or any charitable giving you would like to make.
  • Do I need a will?
    Everyone who is over the age of 18 and who owns property – like a car, a bank account, a motorcycle, or a house – should plan for what to do with their property in the event of their death. If you don’t make a plan, Washington State has statutes that will govern who gets your property if you don’t have a plan in place – and it may not be who you would choose.
  • When should I get an estate plan review?
    Getting your current estate plan reviewed when you experience a major life change is smart. Major life changes include a move, retiring, death of a loved one who is included in your estate planning, disability of a child (adult or minor), birth of a child, receiving an inheritance or any other sudden increase in your wealth, or getting diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
  • What should I expect with an estate plan review?
    Gather your current estate planning documents, and complete an asset list in advance of meeting with your legal professional. Having a list of questions ready can help make sure you make best use of your time. Different law offices charge different prices for legal work – it is smart to shop around and find an office that fits within your budget. During your estate plan review you should discuss whether or not your current planning documents still accomplish your desires. Is your personal representative still a good choice? Do you want to include your preferences for your remains – burial or cremation? Have there been any changes in the laws that impact your current plan? Do you have questions about your plan or the process after you pass? Do you need help discussing your plan with your loved ones?
  • I have been named as a personal representative in a will and my loved on died, what do I do now?
    As a personal representative you have certain responsibilities that are defined by law. The first step you should take is hiring an attorney to advise you. You can hire the law firm who drafted the will or you can hire another attorney. Most wills need to be admitted to court – what is called the probate process.
  • What is a Small Estate Affidavit ?
    There are a few occasions when you won’t need to take a will through probate, for instance, if you are the only heir (or all heirs consent), there is no real property and the value of the estate is less than the statutory limit. This is called a small estate affidavit. Some institutions will assist an heir with a small estate affidavit. An attorney can help with that as well.
  • My spouse passed and I have their will, am I all set?
    You may need to take the will through the probate process. Probate is the name of the legal proceeding in which a will’s directives get carried out. There are 3 basic steps to the probate process: 1. Starting the process: Several legal documents are prepared and presented to a judge for an order starting the probate process. Once the probate is started, Letters are issued, which are the basic document needed to carry out your loved one’s wishes. 2. The personal representative’s work: gather the assets, ascertain the debts, provide required legal notices (i.e. notice to creditors), pay properly filed claims, file required tax returns, prepare an accounting, and prepare the assets for distribution. 3. Close the Estate: Provide legal notices, distribute assets, and close the Estate.
  • My spouse passed and they didn’t leave a will, what do I do now?
    Whether or not your spouse left a will, you may need to go through a probate process to transfer your spouse’ assets to the proper heirs. Call now, and we can help you evaluate if you need to go through the probate process.

Estate Planning Glossary

Last Will and Testament:

Commonly referred to as a will, this document directs where your property and assets will go after your death.  A will can be used to transfer all types of property.   It can direct who will receive your assets, who should care for your children, your funeral preferences, or any charitable giving you would like to make.  It can provide for tax planning strategies.  It has to be signed (also referred to as executed) following strict with legal requirements.  A will has to be taken through the probate process (a court process) in order to transfer your property.

 

Codicil: 

When you only need to change a small portion of your will there is no need to execute an entirely new will.  You can use a Codicil to change a portion of your will.  The Codicil also needs to be signed following strict legal requirements.

 

Personal Representative:

Also called Executor or Administrator, this person is responsible for carrying out the directions in the will or the intestate probate process.  The personal representative is nominated in the will, and then applies to be confirmed by a judge.  If there is no will then the law identifies who can serve as the personal representative. 

 

Probate:

The legal process of carrying out the directions in a will, or transferring property in an intestate estate.  An attorney prepares documents called pleadings and files them with the court.  The court enters an order starting the probate process, appointing a personal representative and ordering that Letters be issued.  In some states the probate process is expensive, lengthy and cumbersome – but in Washington it is relatively short and straight forward.

 

Letters:

Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration are written proof that the personal representative is legally authorized to handle the deceased person’s property and debts.  They will enable a bank or account broker to speak with you.  They allow you to transfer titles to vehicles, as well as numerous other actions as the personal representative.

 

Intestate:

A person dies intestate when they die without executing (signing) a valid will.  The deceased person’s property still needs to be transferred to their heirs, and their debts still need to be paid, often through a probate.  When someone dies without a will, Washington has laws that direct who will receive the deceased person’s property – called the laws of descent and distribution.

 

Trust: 

A trust is a legal entity that is created through a written document.  The trust can be used to hold property until a specific event takes place, like the death of the creator, or reaching a certain age of a beneficiary.  Trusts are often designed to avoid the need for probate.  Trusts are also used in wills to appoint a person to care for property until it can be passed to the heir.

 

Community Property Agreement:

This is a contract executed by spouses that can avoid a probate on the death of the first spouse.  Care should be exercised in using a community property agreement between spouses in second marriages and also with persons who are engaging in estate tax planning.

 

Estate Tax:

Both Washington State and Federal law set out an estate tax.  This is a type of excise (transfer) tax, that takes place when wealth is transferred due to a death.  Both State and Federal laws create an exemption from the tax.  Currently in 2022, Washington State’s exemption is $2,193,000 per person.  That means that the first $2,193,000 of an estate is not taxed. The Federal exemption is 2022 is $12.06 million per person. 

 

Power of Attorney: 

This document gives certain powers that you can exercise to another person to exercise on your behalf.  A power of attorney is only effective while you are alive – once a person passes, the power of attorney is extinguished.  This makes sense because you authorize someone to act on your behalf, and once you have passed you cannot act any longer.  Sometimes a guardianship can be avoided with a power of attorney.

 

Guardianship: 

If a person cannot take care of themselves or their finances, family or friends may petition the court to appoint a guardian.  This legal process consists of presenting evidence to the court of the person’s lack of capacity, and hiring a guardian ad litem.  The guardian ad litem’s job is to be a neutral party who evaluates and provides and objective opinion to the court.

 

Health Care Directive: 

Sometimes referred to as an Advanced Directive or Living Will, this is a document that you sign when you are able to state your desires for medical care in the event that you are in the dying process.  This is sometimes referred to as the “pull the plug” instruction.  In this document, you state your preferences for withholding medical care, and whether or not you want artificial nutrition or hydration.  The Health Care Directive should be created now – don’t wait until you are facing a terminal illness.

 

POLST form: 

The Portable Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form is a "portable" physician order form that describes the patient's care directions. It represents a way of summarizing wishes of an individual regarding life sustaining treatment identified in an advanced directive such as a Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. It is intended to go with the patient from one healthcare setting to another and includes the following:

  • Patient wishes for resuscitation

  • Medical interventions

  • Antibiotics

  • Artificial feedings

 

Generally, a POLST form is created when someone is facing a terminal illness.

Let's Work Together

Contact us today to see how we can help with your estate planning or probate needs:

Janet Kelly: (509) 502-6815

Brian Gieszler: (509) 414-7650

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