People in Washington should not put off creating an estate plan just because they have no children or close relatives. An estate plan does not just establish how assets are to be handled after a person's death. This document also addresses what should occur if individuals are unable to make decisions for themselves.
Adults should create an estate plan so that the proper legal documents are in place in case they become incapacitated and are not able to make decisions for themselves. Necessary documents can include a durable power of attorney for financial and legal decisions and an advanced directive for medical care. Without these legal documents, there are certain decisions that cannot even be decided by a person's spouse. It will also be necessary for a person's relatives to have to go through guardianship proceedings in court in order for someone to be appointed to make decisions on the incapacitated person's behalf.
A trust can be used during a person's lifetime to manage assets and act as a replacement of a will upon his or her death. Two of the main benefits of a trust is that it eliminates the need for a deceased person's estate to have to go through the probate process, and it provides a way to distribute inheritances safely and discretely.
The probate process is one in which the court clears the titles to assets that are solely in a deceased person's name. The closest living relatives, or heirs-at-law, will be notified by the court that they may inherit the assets if the decedent had no will in place.
An attorney who offers estate planning services may assist clients with devising estate plans that ensure their welfare is taken care of should they become incapacitated. Assistance may be provided for completing powers of attorney and living trusts.