How to Probate a Washington Descendant's Estate ---
To "Do It Yourself" without a Lawyer

If you’re using this website, you may be going through probate problems that an estate planning attorney might have prevented. They may have been caused by the language of the will or the circumstances of its creation. Proper estate planning should avoid probate problems. Working with a Washington estate planning attorney is an investment from which both you and your family can benefit.

Estate planning is about giving you some control over your life and assets when things are beyond your control. It is also about preventing conflict among your heirs after you’re gone. Your power to express what you want, along with the ability to carry that out through legal documents, is one focus of estate planning. Properly executed documents are critical to avoid court involvement, reduce confusion, and save money and time when your estate goes through probate. You can learn about some of the details of the probate process here. If you want to understand possible problems that can arise in probate when there is little, or no, estate planning, read about the ways a probate lawyer can help handle an estate.

A Washington Estate Planning Attorney Could Help You Reach Your Goals

Estate planning is much more than writing a will. That document is essential to an estate plan, but some other core elements of estate planning can make your wishes clear.

  • A will could direct your assets to go to specific people or charities after you pass away.
  • A power of attorney can result in having someone to pay your bills or make healthcare decisions for you when you’re unable to do so.
  • A trust could benefit people you care about, or organizations you support, both now and long after your life ends.

Estate Lawyers in Washington Can Prevent Costly Do-It-Yourself Mistakes

Some may think, why not go with do-it-yourself estate planning? It’s certainly helpful to educate yourself about the options available to you in planning your estate; but without knowledge of the full range of estate planning tools and Washington laws, you may create problems. The money you save with a DIY approach could be far, far less than the costs of mistakes made with fill-in-the-blank documents found online. The author of a Forbes article on the issue found that one such estate planning “package” had the same form listed with three different titles. Other packages missed a key document which few people would know enough to ask about.

Some one-size-fits-all forms can be helpful, but when it comes to estate planning, there can be specific needs that a generalized form does not clearly capture. Or, the forms may be either incomplete or inaccurate. Here are a few concerns you should be aware of before you rely on generalized forms and limited knowledge of estate planning in Washington state.

  • Every state’s laws are unique, and they change over time. A form you find online may or may not comply with Washington law. Unfortunately, you and your family may find this out only after a crisis happens. By then it may be difficult, if not impossible, to create a valid legal document.
  • You don’t know which documents you need or how they can help you reach your goals.
  • You could proceed with a document that is of little help to you and miss using one you need.

If your personal or financial life is complicated, these forms are probably too simple to be helpful. You may feel good that you got “estate planning” off your “to-do” list while spending little money. But the document you produce may not achieve what you want.

Your family may later regret your fast and cheap approach. The adage “you don’t know what you don’t know” can hurt your beneficiaries after you’re gone. You may also undercut your own wishes regarding what happens with your estate or your end-of-life care. You may fail to make appropriate plans using the tools available regarding exactly how your assets should be handled after your death. Few people who aren’t estate attorneys would know all the relevant case and statutory laws that impact your estate plans and how they can be put into action.

How to Choose a Washington Estate Planning Attorney

When you hire a Washington estate planning attorney, there is much more to the job than just filling out forms. You need to think about what you want to accomplish before meeting with an attorney, and write out some notes to capture those thoughts. Consider not only how you’d like your assets distributed after your death, but also who will make financial, legal and healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Perhaps your financial wishes would be best served by creation of a trust.

While you don’t have to know all the documents related to an estate plan, you can think about the goals you have associated with your estate. Because of their knowledge and experience, an estate planning attorney can put the plan together to reach as many of those goals as possible, with the least risk of future problems.

Estate Planning Lawyers Put Your Plans into Legal Documents

Estate planning documents are tools that allow you to accomplish different things. There may be more than one tool that would allow you to reach your goals.


With some limits and the help of attorneys who specialize in wills, you can direct that your property is to go to certain people or charities after your death. You can nominate someone to be the guardian of your children. You can also name the person you want to be responsible for administering your estate.

How a will is written and under what circumstances could lead to legal challenges. This could prevent it from being probated and going into effect. An estate planning attorney can prevent or limit the chances of this from happening, but if it does, reduce the risk that a challenge will be successful. If there is no will, your assets will pass based on state law (to your next of kin). If that’s not what you want, lawyers for wills can prevent that.


This is a legal document allowing you to set aside assets for your benefit or the benefit of others. The person responsible (the trustee) must follow your instructions as much as possible. With the help of a trust attorney, you can create and fund one during your lifetime. You could also make it while you’re alive and fund it from assets that pass through your will.

A trust can be very useful if you want to help someone who can’t manage money. They may be too young, severely disabled, or suffer from substance abuse. Trust lawyers in Washington can help you with Medicaid planning. It could allow you to benefit from your assets while Medicaid pays for your long-term care.

Powers of Attorney

These legal documents grant others authority to make decisions on your behalf. They generally cover financial and healthcare issues. In a power of attorney document, you can empower someone you trust to access bank accounts and pay your bills. Sometimes, you need someone to act on your behalf temporarily; in some cases, that need may be permanent. If you’re an accident victim or suffering from a severe illness, it doesn’t stop your bills from being due. You still might have car payments, rent, utilities, taxes, or a mortgage to pay. If you already have a power of attorney document in place, someone will be your financial representative to handle those bills for you.

A healthcare power of attorney allows someone else to make decisions regarding your health if you cannot. You can also include instructions about what care you want if you become incapacitated. If you’re unconscious or not competent to make decisions, your next of kin would be asked to tell your physician what to do without this document. If you don’t get along with your next of kin or don’t trust their judgment, you should have this document created so you can assign that power to another person.

This document doesn’t pertain only to decisions about your health care. If you have children, a healthcare power of attorney permits someone else to make medical decisions for them. This can be helpful if you’re away from home or suffer a health emergency at a time when your children have healthcare needs requiring a decision normally made by a parent.

Directive to Physicians, or a Living Will

A living will is a limited healthcare power of attorney. It comes into play if you are terminally ill, in imminent danger of death, in a coma, or in a permanent vegetative state. You can list who can make decisions for you in case you are unable to do so and include instructions for your care, such as a “do not resuscitate” medical order. You can do the same through a properly drafted healthcare power of attorney.

Find the Right Estate Planning Lawyer for You

If you decide that estate planning is worth the effort and hiring an attorney is worth the cost, how do you choose one?

Find Candidates for Your Washington Estate Planning Attorney

What do you want to accomplish? What are the circumstances that may make your plan more complicated? After you’ve answered those questions, you can look for attorneys who are a good match for you. Most of us can be served by Washington estate planning lawyers who can create estate planning documents that meet your needs.

You might want someone with more specialized knowledge or experience if you:

  • Want Medicaid or long-term care planning
  • Have financial interests or properties in other states or countries
  • Own a business
  • Are wealthy enough that your estate may need to pay state or federal estate taxes
  • Want to reduce or eliminate transferring substantial assets that could be subject to probate.

You could ask friends, family members, and co-workers about Washington estate lawyers they have used. If you have an accountant or financial planner, they may be a good resource for a referral. If you hired an attorney for another purpose, he or she may tell you who they refer clients to for estate planning. You could do some online research to narrow your options.

Interview Estate Planning Attorneys You May Hire

After you’ve narrowed your list to two or three estate lawyers in Washington, outlined your goals and come up with a list of questions, contact these attorneys for an interview. They may or may not charge for a consultation (if they do, it should be refunded if you retain the attorney).

Some questions worth asking estate lawyers in Washington include:

  • How long have you been involved in estate planning?
  • What’s your education? Did you learn about estate planning through classes, practical experience, or both?
  • How quickly do you usually respond to a client’s phone messages or emails?
  • Will you or someone else be the contact person?
  • How much of the work will be performed by a paralegal or legal assistant?
  • Will you update me about the status of my plan?
  • Do you charge an hourly or a fixed rate?
  • What charges will there be outside that rate?

Make a Choice

After you know what you want from an estate plan and after you speak to a few different lawyers, choose the one who:

  • You’re confident will properly do the job
  • You trust
  • You’re comfortable working with
  • Provides excellent personal service and a good value for the cost.

Your financial future, your healthcare decisions when you’re incapacitated, and plans for your assets after you’re gone should be handled by someone with skill and experience in Washington estate planning.

Our Washington Estate Lawyer May Be the Right One for You

Our team of Washington estate planning attorneys at Dickson Frohlich provides clients with help in developing comprehensive estate plans. Such plans can be straightforward for those with fewer legal needs and highly complex for clients with many family, business, estate, and tax issues. Our attorneys are knowledgeable and experienced and will give you the personal service you deserve. Most of our estate planning clients are referrals from other lawyers and professionals. If those who know the estate planning process in Washington turn to us, you can, too.

Contact us online to set up a consultation.