Experienced Seattle Probate Attorneys
A Seattle probate attorney can help you avoid the problems may come with the probate process. We can help you decide how your estate and finances will be managed after you pass away. You will feel confident your loved ones will be provided for, and your plans will be put into action. Our probate lawyers will handle your estate effectively, efficiently and professionally while providing you with excellent, personal service.
You need to find a Seattle probate attorney you can trust. We earn our clients’ trust every day by educating them about the law, telling them their options, creating plans that work, properly writing legal papers, and making sure their plans are put into action. Dickson Frohlich probate lawyers will help you and your family with many probate matters.
Seattle Washington Probate Attorneys
Our probate services include the following:
Explaining the legal process after a relative has passed on, and postmortem estate planning
Assisting you in filing a will
Protecting your assets for heirs/beneficiaries
Assistance with contesting a will, including claims of undue influence
Representation in probate, estate, and trust litigation
Formal and summary probate administration
Estate and trust administration
Representation of personal representatives
Appointment of a special administrator
our Probate Law Team
Discover What Makes Dickson Frohlich Probate Lawyers Different:
Experience teamed with compassion – We understand that you and your family may be going through a very difficult time. Making your final arrangements or coping with the estate of a loved one can be very stressful. Probate disputes, on top of the loss of a loved one, can result in family relationships going from bad to worse. Put our decades of experience as probate lawyers to work for you. Our thoughtful, accurate and timely handling of your loved one’s personal and financial matters will help smooth the process and reduce stress as much as possible. You can confidently leave the court filings, paperwork, tax issues, phone calls, inventorying, etc., to us, leaving you to live your life and focus on your family.
Skilled attorneys – Estate planning and probate are highly specialized areas of law. Over the years our attorneys have developed the skills and experience needed to help you and your family get the results you seek in as timely a manner as possible. Retaining the services of an attorney who handles these matters only as a small part of his or her practice may result in headaches you want to avoid. Don’t hire an attorney who will be learning while working for you.
Affordability – Estate planning and probate help isn’t just for the wealthy. Dickson Frohlich is committed to providing great service in all areas of probate, trust and estate planning at affordable rates. At this stressful time, don’t let unexpected legal fees add to your worries. At Dickson Frohlich, we never hesitate to provide a quote for our services over the phone.
For more information or to discuss your special concerns, just call our offices in Seattle or Tacoma for a FREE phone consultation at 206-866-2594 or 253-292-5124. We look forward to working with you.
Our Seattle Probate & Estate Law Practice Areas
SEATTLE PROBATE ATTORNEYS
A Probate Lawyer Can Help You Understand Probate Law
Probate law covers what happens to a deceased person’s property after their death. The assets (their possessions and wealth) are the person’s “estate.” Though the probate process is not always needed, it’s a good idea to follow it. If correctly done, the process can protect the estate’s personal representative (the person in charge of the estate) from legal claims and ensure that the estate is correctly distributed to the beneficiaries (those named in the will to receive assets).
What Does a Personal Representative Do?
He or she organizes the estate’s important documents and wealth, pays debts and taxes, and, with what’s left over, spreads the assets according to the will’s instructions. The process helps those owed money by the deceased and creates the beneficiaries’ rights to the deceased’s assets. Assets remaining would be sent to the person’s closest family members if there is no valid will, based on Washington State’s probate law.
The Difference Between “Intestate” and “Testate”
If the deceased has a will, he or she died “testate.” If there is no will or the person made what he or she thought was a valid will, but the person was mistaken, the person died “intestate.” While Washington State law spells out which family members may get assets from the estate. A will would provide you some control over how your assets are shared after your death, such as going to non-family members or nonprofit groups.
How Do Probate and Non-Probate Assets Differ?
An estate can have non-probate and probate assets. The difference between the two is:
The language of the legal documents creating non-probate assets controls what happens to them.
Probate assets are controlled by the will or state law if there is none.
The most common types of non-probate assets are:
Bank and financial accounts set up by the decedent and another person which have “right of survivorship” language (if one dies before the other, the survivor owns what’s in the account).
Property owned in “joint tenancy” with rights of survivorship, which means both parties own it. If one dies before the other, the survivor owns the property.
Assets that are community property (owned by two people) under state law, assuming there’s a marriage or a community property agreement.
Life insurance policies with a beneficiary who will get the proceeds when the insured dies (as long as the designated beneficiary is not the estate)
Any other assets controlled by a beneficiary. They could include a 401(k) or an investment account naming someone as the beneficiary if the account holder dies.
Which Courts Oversee the Probate Process?
In Washington State the Superior Court is in charge of the process. Under state law, it should start in the county where the decedent resided or died or where the property owned by a nonresident decedent is located.
Discover What Makes Dickson Frohlich Probate Attorneys Different
EXPERIENCE AND COMPASSION
We understand you and your family may be going through a very hard time. Making your final arrangements or coping with the estate of a loved one can be very stressful. Probate disputes, on top of the loss of a loved one, can cause family relationships to go from bad to worse. Put our decades of experience as probate lawyers to work for you. Our thoughtful, accurate and timely handling of your loved one’s personal and financial matters will help smooth the process and reduce stress. You can leave the court filings, paperwork, tax issues, phone calls, inventorying, etc., to us, letting you live your life and focus on your family.
Estate planning and probate are highly specialized areas of law. Over the years, our attorneys have learned the skills and gotten experience needed to help you and your family get the results you want. Using an attorney who handles these matters part-time could give you problems you want to avoid. Don’t hire an attorney who will be learning while working for you.
Estate planning and probate help isn’t just for the rich. Dickson Frohlich is committed to providing great service in all areas of probate, trust, and estate planning at rates you can afford. Our fees may be a fraction of the cost of the problems that may result if you proceed without legal advice or representation. At this stressful time, don’t let surprise legal fees add to your worries. At Dickson Frohlich, we won’t hesitate to give you a price for our services over the phone.
For more information or to talk about your concerns, just call our offices in Seattle or Tacoma for a free phone discussion at 206-866-2594 or 253-292-5124. Our probate law team looks forward to working with you.
Common Estate Planning Mistakes That Can Lead to Probate
(Or what not to do when preparing your wills and powers of attorney)
Estate planning mistakes probably won’t impact you, because most legal documents and the probate process take effect after your death. However, mistakes you make could cause a lot of stress, conflict, expense, wasted time, and money by your personal representative and beneficiaries. These are mistakes that could lead to a lawsuit about whether the will is legal. As probate lawyers, we represent parties on both sides of these disputes.
Mistake 1 That May Lead to Probate: Not Doing Any Estate Planning
Whether you plan ahead and name beneficiaries through a will or decide not to have a will so your closest family members get your property after you die, your property will be divided up. If you want a say in who gets it, create a will.
A lawful estate plan will make sure your wealth will go to those you want to receive it (assuming there are assets after costs, debts, and taxes are paid). If you want to support a charity, you must donate during your life or use estate planning to support it after you pass away.
Mistake 2 That May Lead to Probate: Failing to Keep Your Estate Plan Current
Update your estate plan. Your life changes. Children become adults. Your assets may increase or decrease. Someone you wanted to be a beneficiary may die before you do or become financially well off and not need your help. Your family may grow or shrink. Relationships change. You may lose touch with people who once were close to you. Over time you may want to support different causes or people. Changing your estate plan over time can reflect the changes in your life.
Mistake 3 That May Lead to Probate: Failing to Plan for Incapacity
Estate planning isn’t just writing a will so that you will have some control over your assets after you pass away. It’s also about limiting the harm that could happen if you lose mental and or physical ability while you’re alive. You can create different powers of attorney, documents that allow others to make decisions for you.
A financial power of attorney gives someone the ability to control your finances. It can be very wide (covering all your financial matters), very narrow (using one account to pay certain bills), or somewhere in between.
A healthcare power of attorney will name someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. They also have instructions on what kind of treatment you want and don’t want. A healthcare directive or living will is similar but goes into effect only if you’re terminally ill.
Mistake 4 That May Lead to Probate: Confusing or Contradictory Documents
Estate planning documents should be simple and clear. They should plainly state how your wealth should be shared and who gets it. Complicated or confusing ways to share wealth or making rules about how people can benefit from the estate will probably create problems among your family members. Heirs could sue your estate over the will’s legality. Wills shouldn’t leave people confused or guessing.
Mistake 5 That May Lead to Probate: Failing to Understand What Might Happen to Non-Probate Assets or Those Not Mentioned in Your Will
A will does not impact joint or shared accounts with “right of survivorship” (see above). If you don’t want the person with a legal right to your account to gain ownership after your death, you need to make changes while you still can.
Mistake 6 That May Lead to Probate: Creating or Altering a Will for the Wrong Reasons
There are right and wrong reasons to create a will. A proper reason is to help people and causes you care about. A wrong reason is to try to control a family member’s life after your death or to vent your anger.
If someone close to you has made you angry, think long and hard before changing your will to exclude them or sharply reduce what they may get. Trying to use your assets as a carrot, or withholding them as a stick, so that someone will act a certain way may leave family members angry and upset. It could also cause lawsuits.
A Probate Attorney’s Role in Mental Capacity and Estate Planning
State law describes who can make a will: any person “of sound mind” who is at least 18 years old. What is a sound mind (or testamentary capacity)? Who decides if a person’s mind is sound? The person must understand:
What he or she owns
Who will be getting it
That the will is how ownership will transfer.
For that mind to be sound, these criteria must be met when the will was signed. If we have any doubt that a client may have problems with capacity, we will talk to the person’s doctor, if possible, to see whether the person should write a will or other legal document.
When we perform estate planning, we make sure legal papers are valid and do our best to prevent possible legal challenges. If you use a “do it yourself” online will form or a lawyer who doesn’t know estate planning well, it increases the chances that probate will get complicated with legal challenges.
Understanding and Preventing Undue Influence in Creating a Will
If a will is legal — it’s in writing, signed by the person creating it (the testator), that person has testamentary capacity, and the will is properly witnessed — under Washington State law it’s presumed to be legal, no matter how it states the wealth should be shared. Those creating wills have a right (within limits) to decide what happens to their wealth after they die. Because this leaves a lot of leeway, some may try to influence the testator in order to get more money or wealth. That’s acceptable up to a point, but if it becomes extreme, it may be “undue influence” which could be a reason for a lawsuit.
To show undue influence happened when a will was written, a family member claiming it’s not legal needs to prove that the influence …
Was so strong that the testator’s free will was destroyed
Caused the testator to write a will much differently than what would have been made without it.
If the challenger is successful, even if just a part of the will was disputed, the entire will is ruled invalid. If that’s the judge’s decision, earlier wills may be considered or the next of kin will receive assets.
Probate Protections a Seattle Probate Lawyer Can Provide
Law firms and probate attorneys in Seattle know that while a decedent’s will mostly controls what happens to his or her property, there are protections in state law for certain people, such as close relatives who are not listed as receiving wealth in the will.
Under state law, most property “acquired after marriage” is “community property.” There are protections for surviving spouses who may have mistakenly been left out of a will. Separate property is not community property. Separate property refers to “all property acquired before marriage” which was maintained separately throughout the marriage. Separate property also includes any property received after marriage as a gift. Gifts can be anything given to a person without there being an exchange in return.
The next issue would be deciding what wealth and property can be transferred through the will. Under state law, a spouse can give away his or her half-interest in community property (with some limits) and his or her separate property.
There is no Washington State law preventing a parent from disinheriting (or not leaving any property to) a child. If this happens, the child can look to the will to see if there is clear and convincing proof that the omission was intentional. If not, the child could challenge the will.
If a will is written, another child is born, but the will wasn’t updated before the testator died, a judge would probably decide that the disinheritance was not intentional. Generally, the child would get the same share of the property as his or her siblings.
While nothing can replace the care that you provide to your family, creating a will can give you peace of mind.
A will can give you some control over your wealth after your death. If Dickson Frohlich is involved in probating your will, you should feel confident that we will strongly defend your estate’s legal rights and make sure the process is done correctly.
If you’re serving as a personal representative of an estate, the help you can get from a probate attorney can make your job much easier. Probate can be complex and intimidating. If you make a mistake, it can be costly for the estate and possibly to you, too. With assistance from probate attorneys in Seattle, you will be protected from personal liability that can arise if you’re accused of mismanaging the estate.
No matter the probate issue, Dickson Frohlich has over 100 years of experience helping people make and deal with final and personal arrangements.
We are the legal consultants to turn to for help with any estate or trust issue, as well as drafting your will, trust documents, powers of attorney or healthcare directive.
A free 15-minute phone consultation is available when you call our Tacoma office at 253-292-5124 or our Seattle office at 206-866-2594
Another difficult issue that probate law firms in Seattle face is that of a child that appears to be disinherited inadvertently. Generally, decedents have broad control over how their assets are distributed after death. There is no statute or common law that states that parents cannot disinherit a child. However, if a probate lawyer in Seattle (or anywhere else in the state for that matter) encounters a situation where it appears that a child has been targeted for disinheritance, he or she can look to the intent of the testamentary document (will) for guidance. There must be “clear and convincing evidence“ that the omission of the child from the will was “intentional” for it to ultimately stand.
When preparing an estate plan, a wills and trusts attorney is limited by the natural realities of time. Thus, an individual may establish a will, distributing assets between and among his children, and then later in life have additional “issue.“ Obviously, assuming all things are equal, if the testator dies before updating his or her estate plan, then it is highly unlikely that the disinheritance of that child was purposeful. See RCW 11.12.091. The Omitted Child Statute was created to address just such a scenario. According to the statute, for the law to apply, the child in question must be (A) born or adopted after the “execution“ of his parent’s will, and (B) alive at the time of the testator‘s death (in other words, survives the parent who has died).
Seattle probate law attorneys must understand the profound impact that this law may have on the administration of a decedent’s will. An “omitted child“ is deemed to be eligible to receive essentially the same proportional disposition that his or her siblings are to receive. (A classic example that Seattle probate lawyers often face is when the will distributes the decedent’s assets in equal portions amongst the living children, as identifiable at the time of the execution of the will. Then, the decedent has another child, but no provision is made for him. In that situation, it is likely that the omitted child would fall under the protections of RCW 11.12.091.) While there are factors which may impact the ultimate distribution of the estate assets, generally, an omitted child will be entitled to whatever his equal share would have been, as compared to that of his or her siblings. (It should be noted, however, that often times an individual will make nonprobate arrangements for the child in question. This can take the place of what otherwise would have been distributed pursuant to a will. A common example of this is when a person designates a child as the “designated beneficiary“ to an investment account.)
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dickson Law for a few years now. I’ve found them to be super professional and responsive, but I most appreciate that they operate with integrity.”