Wills and Trusts for Unmarried Couples in Washington State

Wills and Trusts for Unmarried Couples in Washington State

Inheritance laws for unmarried couples in committed intimate relationships (CIRs) in Washington state are not always clear. This makes it more important than ever to plan ahead by creating an estate plan to protect your partner in the event you die before them. Two of the best ways to accomplish this goal are to create a last will and testament, also commonly called a will, or a trust during your lifetime. 

Although there are other elements that can go into a comprehensive estate plan, which everyone — young or old, married or unmarried — should have, this article will focus mainly on wills and trusts, commonly used together, as they apply to unmarried couples in Washington state. So read on, and contact a Seattle estate planning attorney afterward to see how a will and a trust can protect your partner in your committed intimate relationship.

Wills for Unmarried Couples in Washington State

Estate planning isn’t just for married couples. Note that while a registered domestic partner is seen as a spouse, a partner in a committed intimate relationship is not. Therefore, when making life decisions with your partner, it is important to consider what will happen after you die.

In Washington state, if you are in a committed intimate relationship and die without having a will (die intestate), state law will determine who gets your assets. This could be a number of people according to hierarchical laws of succession: your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, or your closest blood relative. 

This means your assets might go to relatives chosen by the state, not who you would choose. If you don’t have legal heirs, your belongings could go to the state. The law does not automatically give your partner rights to your belongings when you die. 

Because intestate laws in Washington can be complicated, especially for non-traditional families, it is best to clearly state in a will or trust how you want your assets distributed. Should you want your partner to inherit from you when you die, make sure your will clearly says so. If you have children under 18, estate planning documents can also specify who should take care of them after you’re gone, as well as other considerations. A Seattle estate planning lawyer can help you with these details.

Trusts for Unmarried Couples in Washington State

Another way for unmarried couples to protect their partners is to create a living trust. An obvious benefit of creating a trust is to avoid the probate process

There are two kinds of living trusts: those that are irrevocable and those that are revocable. Note that a living trust is different from a testamentary trust, which is part of a will and is created when the will’s creator (the decedent) dies. 

Revocable Trust

During the grantor’s lifetime, they have the authority to oversee the assets within the trust according to their preferences. This includes the ability to conduct transactions such as purchasing and selling assets and modifying the list of beneficiaries at their discretion.

The grantor has the right to terminate the trust at any point while they are alive. However, upon their death, their share of the revocable living trust automatically transforms into an irrevocable trust.

Revocable living trusts are frequently chosen due to the flexibility they afford the grantor. Individuals may value the assurance that their funds and possessions remain accessible if they need them. 

Additionally, they might desire the ability to adapt the trust to accommodate changes within their family or personal circumstances. Some may also wish to maintain a level of control over the beneficiaries during their lifetime. Ultimately, revocable trusts provide a range of options for those who establish them, which is why they are a popular choice for unmarried couples in Washington state.

Irrevocable Trust

An individual can establish an irrevocable trust while they are alive. However, upon funding the trust, the grantor relinquishes all control over its management. Consequently, the grantor cannot serve as the entity’s trustee.

Nevertheless, the grantor retains the authority to designate a trustee to oversee the trust during their lifetime and beyond. However, unless the grantor specifically designates themselves as a beneficiary, they are unable to withdraw any funds or assets from the trust.

Establishing an irrevocable living trust might offer state-specific tax advantages. Consult with a tax professional knowledgeable about Washington State tax regulations to determine whether creating such a trust is advantageous.

Selecting a Trustee

When incorporating a revocable or irrevocable trust into your estate plan, it is imperative to carefully consider who will serve as trustee. While you may initially view your partner as the ideal candidate, this does not have to be the case. 

However, if you do intend to entrust them with this responsibility, have an open conversation about your intentions regarding their role before finalizing any decisions. This helps ensure your partner fully understands the expectations upon them and has the opportunity to decline the position if they don’t feel up to it.

Why Unmarried Couples in Washington State Should Have an Estate Plan

As mentioned earlier, in Washington state, if you pass away without a will and are married, your spouse will automatically inherit your community property and half of your separate property assets. Conversely, if you are unmarried and die intestate, regardless of any intentions you may have had during your lifetime, your assets will be distributed according to Washington state succession laws, bypassing your partner. 

More specifically, in the absence of a will, your assets will first go to any living children, then to your parents, then to siblings, and then to the nearest relative. Even in the absence of any living relatives, your assets will not go to your partner but, instead, to the state. 

Moreover, if your partner seeks to claim any property, such as your shared home, they might need to initiate a lawsuit against your estate. This process can be both emotionally distressing and financially burdensome, especially during a period of grief and mourning.

Whether a challenge would be necessary will depend on how the title to the house reads. Ownership can transfer to a partner or co-owner upon the first owner’s death via a Transfer on Death Deed. Otherwise, the heirs of the first owner to die may automatically inherit their share.

Engaging in estate planning while you are of sound mind can prevent these issues. An estate plan allows you to maintain control over the distribution of your assets and make important end-of-life decisions before you are incapacitated or die. 

Proactive planning can prevent future legal conflicts, which are often costly and protracted. Additionally, it can alleviate stress and discord among loved ones or relatives, as they are aware of your wishes, providing you with peace of mind during your lifetime and for your relatives after it.

Other Elements of An Estate Plan in Addition to a Will and a Trust

Not everyone will want or need to have a trust as part of their estate plan. Your Seattle estate planning lawyer can help you better understand if your individual circumstances warrant one. As for a will, though a will is the most well-known element of an estate plan, other elements are equally critical.  

As you now know, a will is a document that allows you to specify the recipients of your property and assets, appoint guardians for your children, and designate an executor to carry out your last wishes. It also enables you to manage how assets are handled for your heirs through a testamentary trust.

Powers of Attorney (POAs) are likewise important. There are two crucial types to consider: medical and financial powers of attorney. A medical power of attorney empowers a chosen individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Similarly, a financial power of attorney authorizes someone to handle financial matters and possibly care for dependents in case you are unable to do so.

It is a common misconception that spouses or unmarried partners in committed intimate relationships will automatically have the authority to make such decisions in the absence of a POA. Increasingly, institutions require these documents or even court orders, regardless of marital status. Having both types of POAs is thus necessary for your partner to act on your behalf when necessary.

An advance healthcare directive, also frequently known as a living will, sets forth your desires for medical treatment where you are unable to make medical decisions on your own. It also enables you to specify whether you wish to prolong your life artificially or pass away naturally.

A HIPAA authorization grants appointed individuals access to your medical information in order to make informed decisions regarding your health care. Without it, they will face obstacles in accessing information relevant to your car.

In Washington State, decisions regarding the handling of your remains must be made via a written expression called a Declaration of Disposition of Remains (DDR). This document makes your wishes clear and easily accessible to your family, separate from your will. A DDR is an important document to have since many decisions regarding your remains must be made in the hours and days immediately following death. 

Find a Seattle Estate Planning Lawyer for Unmarried Couples in Washington State

Though laws regarding unmarried couples in Washington state tend to be confusing, there is no need for you to be. At Elise Buie Family Law, we have vast experience helping unmarried couples create an estate plan that works for their individual circumstances. We pride ourselves on educating our clients about the legal matter with which we are supporting them so they can make informed decisions and feel at ease about them. If you would like to contact us about an estate planning matter, Call our Seattle office today or set up a consultation.    


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