Stephen Waltar joined me to talk about Money and Law here at Answers for Elders radio. He is a renowned estate planning attorney in Bellevue, WA. Stephen walked me through numerous aspects such as Property and Assets, Estate Planning and Trusts. These legal terms can be confusing and complicated, but Stephen helps simplify these concepts. “I often have clients call me afterwards and say, ‘that wasn’t that bad.'” Visiting an attorney can be scary. And many people don’t like to think about, much less talk about or plan for, dying. But protecting yourself when you’re alive and protecting your loved ones when you pass away is what good estate planning is all about.
Estate planning can (but doesn’t have to) include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and living wills. A will just says who gets what when you die. A trust helps protect your assets and reduces probate. Power of attorney governs what should happen while you’re alive. It gives someone else authority to act as if they were you, whether making medical or financial decisions. (You can have different people acting on your behalf for different aspects of your life.) Who you choose for your power of attorney is not a popularity contest. It isn’t about loving one person more than another. It’s who you want making your decisions. A living will tells everyone (medical personnel, family members, et al) what you do or do not want to happen to you medically if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes. This helps alleviate guilt because you have clearly communicated your desires.
A lot of people try to avoid estate planning by simply adding a person (i.e. child) to their accounts. But this opens senior parents to be liable for adult children’s debts or actions. It is much better to draft a legal document, such as a trust, that a child can be the beneficiary or trustee of, instead. Powers of Attorney may also be needed between spouses. Many people erroneously believe in a community property state like Washington that if a spouse dies, the assets automatically go to the surviving spouse. Instead, it goes into probate. The surviving spouse cannot do anything (sell or refinance a house, for example) for mutually owned property until it’s probated.
One of the best quotes Stephen said was, “Don’t put your trust in money, put your money in trust!” There are several different kinds of trusts. Revocable trusts can be changed as your goals change. Irrevocable trusts cannot be changed. These may protect your beneficiaries from expensive taxes. It may protect your spouse who may remarry from losing the assets with which he or she would go into the next marriage. You can also put your house in a trust. This may avoid or reduce some estate taxes and streamline the probate process. You may also set up a Special Needs Trust to protect a beneficiary who is disabled and reducing government assistance. The trust protects them from having their much-needed benefits reduced or removed but allows the trust to help pay for additional expenses. There are many other kinds of trusts.
As to what is needed, the short answer is…it depends. It depends on what you have. It depends on your goals. It depends on who is getting what. Stephen will sit down with you for a free consult. But first, he asks that a questionnaire of “nosy questions” (his words, not mine!) be completed. that allows him to get to know what you’re coming in with, do some research, then really spend the consult getting to know you, listening to you, your goals and your needs.
To contact Stephen, call 425-455-6788 or go to www.waltar.com .
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