Wills & Estate Planning
This guide briefly discusses the issues people need to consider when planning for how their property and assets will be distributed to others after their death. Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:
- Law.com’s Legal Dictionary
- The Washington State Court’s Glossary of Terms
What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the process, undertaken before your death, of ensuring that your money and property are given away as you would like. Without estate planning, you have no say in who inherits your money, your family may have to pay taxes, and probate could be more complicated and time-consuming than is necessary. The most common tools used in estate planning are wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and living wills. Other specialized tools may be used to avoid probate.
Websites with Estate Planning Information
Nolo Press: Wills, Trusts & Estates Center. This portion of the Nolo Press site provides information about all of the legal tools people can use to plan for the managment and transfer of their property and assets. The information and forms are not Washington State-specific so you will need to adjust them. Written for non-lawyers, Nolo Press materials answer legal questions in a straight forward, non-technical fashion. Nolo Press sells a wide variety of books designed for the do-it-yourself person. The Law Library owns and circulates many of these materials.
Northwest Justice Project: Wills, probate & Other Advanced Directives section. This portion of the WashingtonLawHelp web site has links to information about wills, health care directives, estate planning for non-married couples, a dealing with death checklist and a guide for small estate affidavits that includes a good overview of how inheritance works in Washington State.
Washington State Medical Association: Advanced Directives and other End of Life documents. This site includes discussions of health care directives and health care power of attorney documents.
Wills: For good introductory information and even some basic templates that can help you draft a will, you may want to take a look at wa-wills.com
Laws on Estate Planning
In Washington, many laws concerning estate planning are found in Title 11 (Probate and Trust law) of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). Additional laws may be found in Title 26 (Domestic Relations), Title 63 (Personal Property), Title 64 (Real Property), Title 68 (Cemeteries Morgues and Human Remains), Title 70 (Public Health and Safety), Title 83 (Estate Taxation). You may also need to look at Federal Laws.
Estate planning is a complex process that requires legal knowledge and informed decision making. Do-it-yourself kits are available from a number of sources, but they may not be accurate or sufficient for your needs. Forms can be found at office supply stores, or can be purchased on the Internet.
The Northwest Justice Project has forms for Living Wills and Powers of Attorney on their web site. These free forms are accompanied by careful instructions.
Books in the Library
Many useful materials, especially Washington specific materials, are not available on the web. The library has a large collection of materials related to estate planning.
Self-Help Books: The library has a large collection of self-help books for estate planning. They can be found in the call number ranges listed below.
- Estate Planning: KF 570 .E88 – KF 570 .Z9;
- Living Trusts: KF 734
- Wills: KF 755 – KF 757
If you go to those sections of the shelves, you will find a range of materials designed for do-it-yourselfers. This information is not necessarily specific to Washington – you may need to consult the statutes or one of the more detailed treatises listed below.
Detailed information about Washington estate planning laws can be found in several sources. These materials are written for lawyers, and address many of the specific questions left unanswered by the more general self help information listed above.
Washington Lawyer’s Practice Manual, KF 300 .W27 1986. The Washington Lawyer’s Practice Manual (WLPM) series is a great resource for practicing attorneys and for non-lawyers who need more in-depth knowledge of a particular subject. Estate planning is discussed in Chapter 10A of Volume 4. The WLPM series is located at the Reference Desk in both Kent and Seattle.
Washington Practice, KFW 80 .W3 v. 26 to v.26B. These volumes cover a variety of elder law topics including general estate planning, health care directives, powers of attorney, guardianship and probate.
Washington Estate Planning Deskbook, KF 750 .Z99 W37 2005.
Continuing Legal Education (CLEs), The library collects materials from CLEs. These are outlines of topics covered in classes for lawyers. Generally, these address either new issues, or complicated details. They can be found within the call number ranges listed above.
If you need more help
Guide to Legal Clinics & Resources in King County
If you find that you need more information, you may contact one of the agencies listed below for assistance.
Estate Planning Council of Seattle (206) 504-4968
The King County Bar Association, Lawyer Referral Service, (206) 267-7010.
You may use this service to find an experienced estate planning attorney. If you live outside King County, click on “frequently asked questions” to find phone numbers for lawyer referral services in other Washington counties.
Links Updated: January 2022