When people in Washington think about making a will or a trust, they may think first of their bank accounts, real estate and other forms of physical property. However, digital assets are becoming increasingly important in the estate planning world. As people live more of their lives online, access to digital accounts can be a critical aspect of planning for the future. Writing a will is often just the first step in developing an estate plan; people need to review their documents in the years to come to reflect changes to their lives as well as alterations to tax and estate law.
Most Washington residents, if asked, would likely acknowledge that everyone should have some form of estate plan in place. Despite that, a significant percentage of adults have not taken basic steps towards accomplishing that objective. Other than a reluctance to recognize one's own mortality, one reason for this seeming inconsistency may be confusion and lack of understanding as to what exactly an estate plan entails. Perhaps a clear understanding of the purpose the various documents in an estate plan serve will help provide greater incentive for individuals to prepare for the inevitable and better secure their future.
When Washington residents think about planning for the future and distributing their assets, they may consider making a will or even a trust, envisioning that this will make sure their wishes are carried out. However, what many people do not realize is that some of the largest and most important assets a person may have are often not controlled by a will at all, because they do not go through probate. Life insurance policies, retirement plans and investment funds often have a pay-on-death beneficiary, who will receive the payout after the original owner passes away.
Beneficiary designations can be an important part of an estate plan for people in Washington, but they are often mishandled. Retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance are among the assets that are passed using a beneficiary designation.
Tacoma residents who are creating an estate plan might wonder whether they should use a trust and if so, what kind. A living trust is one of the most flexible because it leaves the grantor in control of the assets. The person can move assets in or out of the trust, change beneficiaries or even cancel the trust.
Many Washington residents do not look forward to the estate planning process. This is because there are a lot of stressful elements to it. For instance, an individual may not know which documents to include or who to leave money or other assets to. It can also be stressful for the simple fact that no one wants to think about dying.
There are several points throughout a person's life when it may be a good idea to update an estate plan. A person who turns 18 should, at minimum, have powers of attorney that name people to make healthcare decisions and take over finances if the person is incapacitated by illness or injury.
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.
When creating or updating their estate plans, residents of Washington should make sure that they address how their digital assets are to be handled. This may require that individuals do some legal research, as there are number of challenges that arise when addressing digital assets.
Writing a will or thinking about what happens during a serious medical crisis are easy things for people in Washington to put off. People typically find these uncomfortable topics difficult to raise with their loved ones, but failing to put wishes into writing could inflict turmoil and financial burdens on close relatives when someone dies intestate or suffers an event that leads to incapacity. Although expressing final wishes about the distribution of an estate remains important, everyone regardless of age or wealth could benefit from preparing a durable power of attorney.