Is Getting a Will Worth It?

Yes, Washington lawyers say: it will give peace of mind

By Dave McGurgan | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 19, 2024 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Carrie C. Simchuk

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Barbara Sherland, an estate planning attorney from Seattle, serves many roles, including therapist, confidante, and life coach. Her mission is to help clients plan for the inevitable and make sure their wishes are carried out after they die. Every day, clients come into Sherland’s office and reveal not only their personal financial information but their most intimate thoughts about life.

Planning for the Inevitable

“Sometimes I meet with a client, and they say, ‘If I die …’ and I say, ‘No, it’s when,’ ” says Sherland in a compassionate tone. “We know this is going to happen. Let’s try as best we can to plan for it.” To Sherland, this is not depressing. Far from it. “You get to talk to people, and they’ll tell you what’s really important in life. It’s the heart of what we all are.”

Estate planning can be considered the sum total of birth, school, work, taxes, death—and more. It’s also about determining what type of legacy a person wants to leave behind. “You’re hitting right at the core of one’s essence and values,” says Sherland.

Every estate plan should include, at minimum, three essential estate planning documents that Sherland calls “documents to die for”:

  1. A will (last will and testament);
  2. A durable power of attorney; and
  3. A healthcare directive (also referred to as an advance directive or end-of-life directive).

Experts agree that assembling an estate plan is a good idea for most people, including the recently married, new parents, and those with any sizable wealth.

Carrie Simchuk, a partner at Perkins Coie in Seattle, says this isn’t something that should be put off. “I can’t think of anything that is more important than making sure that your family will be planned for and there will be a smooth transition if something were to happen to you prematurely or unexpectedly,” says Simchuk. “I don’t think it’s a place to cut corners.”

Having an Estate Plan Reduces the Likelihood of Conflict

A well-crafted estate plan can reduce the likelihood of conflicts, including loved ones or family members challenging a will.

“What the estate planner can do is to create and put into place a clear estate plan,” says Simchuk. “If there is a challenge, you know the plan in place is one that is effective and should be binding.” Additionally, a no-contest clause can be included in a will to say that any person who challenges it will be disinherited.

I can’t think of anything that is more important than making sure that your family will be planned for and there will be a smooth transition if something were to happen to you prematurely or unexpectedly. I don’t think it’s a place to cut corners.

Carrie C. Simchuk

Taking Care of Your Dependents

In addition to beneficiary designations, a will can dictate who will care for your minor children if you become incapacitated or die. Choosing a guardian is not an easy decision. “It’s really tough for a lot of parents,” notes Sherland. “They can’t imagine someone else raising their children. But if they don’t do it, the court is going to appoint someone.”

Siblings and parents are the first choice for many people, but other factors can come into play. “A lot of times [parents’] siblings can be all across the country. Their parents will really want their kids to stay in the same area, particularly if the kids are older and established in school with their own friends. So they may appoint a friend as guardian.”

Estate Plans Are Worth the Price

Even the most basic estate plan can benefit from the advice of an experienced attorney who is familiar with state laws, says estate planning lawyer Kenneth Schubert, Jr. “People always want a simple will,” says Schubert. “They want to keep the cost down. Everyone has enough complexity in their life; they don’t want to add to it.”

Schubert says the cost of developing a basic estate plan, which starts at roughly $750, is a small price to pay for peace of mind—and possibly to avoid much more in estate taxes.

Making Wealth Transfers

One way to ease the etax consequences of transferring wealth to the next generation is by establishing a trust. Parents can tailor these to suit themselves by choosing an age at which children can access the money, or circumstances under which it would be available at a younger age.

Families with considerable assets often create their own charitable foundations as a way to leave a meaningful legacy and also reduce the taxes on transferred wealth. “Children can serve on the board of the foundation and work together with parents to decide which charities should benefit from their family wealth,” says Simchuk.

“It’s a way to teach family members [and] second and third generations about wealth preservation and/or doing well for others through charitable giving. And after the parents pass away, the children would continue to serve on that board and continue to make decisions concerning which charities they want to support.”

Visit the Super Lawyers directory to find an experienced wills and estate planning attorney in your area for guidance through the legal process.

For more information on this area of law, including what makes a valid will, the difference between a will and a living will, and revocable and irrevocable living trusts, see our overviews of estate planning and probate and estate administration.

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