Most people know that they need a will to control how their assets will be distributed after death. However, most people also put off acting on their knowledge. They would prefer not to think about their deaths. At our Shoreline, Washington, law firm, we urge all clients to prepare a will or draft a trust; it is not difficult or expensive.
Attorneys at the Hawkes Law Firm are experienced, concerned and caring. We know that clients may not have settled on guardians for their children. Our experience tells us that they probably do not know how probate works. They may wonder about asset protection. When someone visits our law firm to discuss estate planning, we discuss all these things and more. We give people the information they need to make good decisions that protect their assets and their families.
Many estate planning attorneys urge clients to use a trust rather than making a will. They argue that avoiding probate and maintaining privacy are key benefits of trusts. At the Hawkes Law Firm, our lawyers believe that wills are great options for most people, that probate is not that difficult and that the danger of publicity has been overstated. Probate in Washington is easy, inexpensive and quick if the will was properly drafted. And often a probate results in many debts being erased, providing more assets for the survivors.
Educating Clients About the Probate Process
Most people are unclear about the role probate plays in settling an estate. It is very straightforward and involves paying the properly claimed debts of the deceased, collecting and appraising the assets, and distributing those assets as directed by the will. Our attorneys guide heirs and personal representatives (executors) through the process, making sure they understand their options at all stages of probate.
How We Help With Probate
Our attorneys perform the following tasks to help clients with probating an estate:
- We meet with the personal representative (also known as the executor) named in the will or primary beneficiary (if there is no will)
- We prepare documents to be filed with the court, including notice to creditors and request to appoint the executor
- We present a petition to initiate probate to the court on behalf of the executor
- We publish the notice to creditors as well as notices to heirs and relevant government departments
- We assist with establishing estate accounts for consolidating the deceased’s assets
- We assist with paying taxes and other debts
- Once the period for accepting creditor claims has ended and all debts are paid, we advise the executor how to distribute the remaining assets
Most clients do not initially know that if creditors do not properly present their claims against an estate within the period allowed by the court, they cannot seek payment later on, even if the amount owed is significant. In many probates thousands of dollars worth of debts owed to major banks and credit card companies get erased, leaving more assets for the heirs of the decedent.
People who have made a will think they have done everything they need to do to protect their families and their assets. And this is true in most instances. However, in some cases, a will is contested as it goes through probate. Someone objects to its provisions and endeavors to overturn it in favor of another arrangement.
At the Shoreline, Washington, law firm, Hawkes Law Firm, our lawyers defend and prosecute will contests. Because of this aspect of our practice, we understand the importance of ensuring that any wills or trusts that we draft can withstand the scrutiny of a contest. When we believe there may be some doubt about the competency of the person, for example, we will video them to demonstrate their competence when they made the will.
Issues in Will Contests
Wills can be contested on a wide variety of grounds. Our law firm has handled will contests in which the plaintiffs charged:
- Undue influence by a caregiver or relative
- Lack of capacity to execute a will
- The will probated was not the correct will
- The language of the will is unclear
- Fraud committed to influence the person making the will
- Misconduct of person holding power of attorney
We represent proponents and defendants in will contests and inheritance disputes. When estate administration problems such as these arise, it is important to have an experienced attorney to help. Our litigation experience is very helpful in these circumstances; many estate planning lawyers don’t litigate at all so they have no awareness of complex evidentiary and procedural issues that may be helpful or hurtful in a will contest.
Educating Our Clients About Their Options
We are known as caring advocates who provide people with all the information they need to make decisions about will contests. We counsel clients about the best course of action. In some instances, the best course of action may be to include someone who was wrongfully omitted from the will. It is almost never easy to overturn a will, even when everyone agrees that this is the best course of action. Our attorneys advise people about their options.