Here are seven reasons you want to protect your family with a last will and testament

Having a current last will and testament in Washington is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family.
Having a current last will and testament in Washington is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Getty Images/iStockphoto file

Many people do not realize that having a current last will and testament is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family, according to the staff at the Bellingham law firm of Lustick, Kaiman & Madrone.

Not only can it legally protect your spouse, children and your assets, it also can mandate and require exactly how you want things handled after you have passed away. Wills can be simple and just a few pages and do not take too much time to prepare.

While everyone’s situation is unique, here are some top reasons to have a will, according to Lustick, Kaiman & Madrone staff:

1. You decide who gets your property.

A last will and testament is a legally binding document that allows you to decide, in advance, how you want your property to be divvied up. You get to direct exactly what happens to your real estate, automobiles, heirlooms, money, and any other thing of value you own at the time of your death.

If you die without a will, there is no guarantee that your desires will be carried out. Having a will helps to minimize any potential arguments about your estate that could potentially arise. You also get select legal representatives who will take steps in the court to ensure your wishes are followed to the letter.

2. You decide who will manage your estate after you die.

Every will has a provision naming a personal representative. This is the person who will make sure that all your affairs are in order. This includes paying off bills, canceling credit cards and notifying banks and other business establishments.

Personal representatives have the biggest role in the administration of your estate. You need to be sure you appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy and well organized. A personal representative has to be over age 18 and does not need to be a family member.

3. You decide who will take care of your minor children.

If you are a parent with children under 18, you can designate legal guardians in your will. This designation provides strong guidance to the probate court that you feel the person is best suited to care for your children after your death.

The court will typically follow such designations, especially when you pick family members or people who already have a relationship with your child.

4. Wills help minimize your probate and estate taxes.

After death transfers are taxable, and sometimes, the tax bill after a person dies can be shockingly high. However, a carefully drafted testament will avoid unnecessary taxes with just a few minor provisions. It can be helpful to meet with your personal financial planner before having your will drafted.

5. A will helps avoid a lengthy probate process.

In Washington state, all estates must go through the probate process, with or without a will. Having a will usually speeds up this process. It also potentially makes closing out your estate less expensive as well. The courts determine who will get your estate under provisions of state law when you die without having a will.

6. You get to make gifts and donations.

We think of wills as a way to give property to family members, but wills can also be used to make direct gifts. Giving money or property directly to someone who may not be related to you is known as a direct gift. You can also make direct gifts to a gift to a charity or a university or college.

Sometimes direct gifts given to charities can reduce your overall probate or estate tax. If you die without a will, there is no provision in state law for a direct gift to be given, even if you may have promised to make one before you died.

7. You can set up a family trust.

Wills often contain provisions to set up an after-death trust. A trust is basically a bank account controlled by a independent person (the trustee) who can spend money from the trust only for the benefit of another person (the beneficiary).

If you are divorced and have small children, a trust is very useful. These accounts are a way for you to leave your estate to your kids and avoid concerns about your ex-spouse misusing the children’s inheritance.

You can also limit things that trust money can be used for. For example, the trust may only allow paying for your children’s health care, college tuition, or housing costs.

Trustees can be family members or you can select a lawyer or an accountant. Trusts sometimes present tax challenges, so it’s important to discuss them with your financial planning or tax professional before creating one in your will.