Most of us have an idea of how we would give away our money if asked, whether it to our kids, or charities, or that favorite family friend, but do you know what happens to your stuff when you die?

Group shot of the Estate Planning group.

Although death is something that happens to all of us, planning for it is something very few of us do, despite all of us wanting to make things as easy as possible after our deaths. This ease comes from creating an Estate Plan.

We will guide you through this emotional process, whether it is proactively creating an Estate Plan or dealing with transferring assets following the death of a loved one.

Estate Planning

Estate Planning is the process of creating a plan that informs people of your wishes when you are unable to do so, either as a result of incapacity or following death.

Documents included in an effective Estate Plan:

  1. Financial Durable Power of Attorney
  2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  3. Health Care Directives and Supplement
  4. Disposition of Remains Authorization
  5. Will/Revocable Living Trust.

Durable Powers of Attorney

Durable Powers of Attorney are documents that enable someone to act on your behalf while you are living but unable to do so. 

More specifically, the Financial Durable Power of Attorney allows someone to take financial-related actions on your behalf, for example, pay bills, file tax returns, sell property, etc. Comparatively, your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows someone to make healthcare-related decisions and/or take healthcare-related actions on your behalf, including: consenting to medical treatment, making doctors' appointments, and getting medical records on your behalf.

Reasons we separate the 2 types of Powers of Attorney:

  1. Your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care contains personal information, like medical allergies and whether you want to allow your Health Care Agent to consent to an autopsy, that financial institutions don’t need to know.
  2. Your Financial Durable Power of Attorney is often effective upon your incapacity, but your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is effective immediately since it typically comes into play in emergencies.
  3. Lastly, certain people are often better suited for certain roles, for example, your CPA might not make the best doctor.

Powers of Attorney are extremely important, for they are the only way to avoid the extremely burdensome Guardianship process.

Health Care Directives and Supplements

Health Care Directives and Supplements, also often referred to as Living Wills, address your preferences in the event you have been deemed by 2 physicians to be in a permanent vegetative state where food and water would only artificially prolong your death, do you want food, water or neither?

Our office’s Health Care Directives and Supplements also address your preferences if you were diagnosed with a Dementia related illness. Although there is no legal precedent for this additional language, in our experience Courts often give deference to a client’s wishes. The addition of this language also lets your family know what your preferences are under those types of circumstances. The reason we feel that it is essential to include this additional language is that Dementia related illnesses have become more and more prevalent.

Lastly, we know how you are constantly asked at the doctor’s office whether you have one of these, which is why we give you an extra original when signing to bring to the doctor’s office to add to your medical file.

Disposition of Remains Authorization

Despite offering several alternatives, such as cremation, green burial, and compost, Washington is primarily a burial state and in our experience funeral homes are often reluctant to deviate from that position without having all of the deceased family members’ approval.

To combat this and deal with your passing as efficiently as possible, Estate Plans in our office also include a Disposition of Remains Authorization, which clearly states your wishes as to how you would like your body disposed of following your death, and who has the legal authority to make that happen.

Wills/Revocable Living Trusts


Although the primary purpose of a Will is to let people know your preferences regarding where your assets should go upon your passing, Wills can also include:

  • Estate Tax avoidance strategies through the use of trusts created for the benefit of the Surviving Spouse;
  • Preference as to who should act as guardian for a minor or disabled child of yours;
  • Outline whether a recipient should receive their share outright or through a trust;
  • Ensure that a recipient isn’t disqualified from any government assistance they are receiving or eligible to receive in the future; and
  • Streamline the process by electing who should be in charge (Personal Representative, formerly Executor/Executrix).

Revocable Living Trusts

Revocable Living Trusts are an alternative to a Will in that they also let people know your preferences regarding who should receive your assets upon your passing, but instead of being executed when you die, it is created and maintained during your lifetime. Meaning that all of your assets will need to be retitled in the name of the trust and any time you buy/sell/transfer something it will also be done through the Trust, something our office can assist you in doing. Despite this, Revocable Living Trusts are a great alternative to avoiding probate in other states if you own a house outside of Washington; providing significant privacy protection since Wills are public records; and/or enabling transferability if you plan on moving out of Washington someday.

VJG takes a wholistic approach to each client, so in addition to assisting in the creation of a Will/Revocable Living Trust, we will work with you to ensure that all of your assets that pass outside of the terms of your Will/Trust such as Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance also pass according to the terms of your newly created plan. At that same time, we will also review your assets to ensure there aren’t any roadblocks that would prevent your plan from happening.

Estate Tax Planning

In addition to assisting you in creating an Estate Plan, it may be necessary to also include some Estate Tax Planning, for individuals may only pass a certain amount of assets Estate Tax-free. Currently, the federal threshold before triggering Estate Tax is a lot higher than at the Washington State level. Strategies for Estate Tax avoidance may include:

  • Irrevocable trusts including those that hold life insurance;
  • Creating family limited liability companies to take advantage of possible discounts when gifting;
  • Gifting; and/or
  • Charitable Trusts

Supplemental Needs Trusts

Supplemental Needs Trusts (also known as Special Needs Trusts) are trusts a person can create on someone else’s behalf to provide a method for them to receive a portion of the Trust Creator’s Estate without disqualifying the recipient from the government assistance they are currently receiving or eligible to receive. This type of trust also avoids the required payback rules when the recipient dies.

What Makes a VJG Estate Plan Unique:

We emphasize education and options – our goal is to craft a plan that fits each client’s unique set of circumstances, and in doing so educate them about their options along the way.

Estate Administration

Whether a person dies with a Will, with a Trust, or with neither, Estate Administration is the process of transferring assets from deceased individuals to living individuals.


Probate is the legal mechanism of transferring assets from deceased individuals to living individuals through a Will.  More specifically, probate allows us to determine the creditors of a deceased individual, identify their assets, pay any expenses, and ultimately transfer the remainder to the intended beneficiaries.

Although probate typically lasts for a minimum of 6 months, it does not mean assets can’t be claimed, transferred, sold, or distributed during this period.

Probate generally occurs in 3 phases*:

Phase 1: The legal part of things where the Personal Representative is appointed by the Court, applies for Letters Testamentary/Letters of Administration, provides notice to necessary parties, etc.;

Phase 2: The portion of the probate where we identify creditors, as well as inventory, consolidate, transfer, and/or claim assets; and

Phase 3: The last portion is where we tell the Court we have finished all of the tasks required of a Personal Representative, we pay all final expenses, make distributions, and close the Estate.

*This process is also used for individuals who die without a Will or Trust.

Trust Administration

Trust administration has many of the same elements as probate, with the exception of Court involvement. Although not having the Court involved may sound like a positive, and sometimes it is, it can also be a negative because Washington favors Wills, and without a Will and the accompanying probate, you won’t be eligible to receive Letters Testamentary/Letters of Administration which are often requested throughout the Trust Administration process.

Whether it is probate or trust administration, our office will guide you one step at a time.  In recognition that not all estates need extensive participation by our office, assistance in our office is a continuum that may be limited to just doing the legal side of things and setting you up with templates, checklists, and guidance regarding the remaining tasks, or on the other end handling most tasks, if not everything. Estate administration can also fall anywhere in between. To accomplish this, we utilize our Estate Administration Paralegal, which allows us to keep estates running as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Estate Planning Litigation

At VJG we understand that estates and trust are complex and the questions surrounding them often seem even worse. But we are here for just that. Do you have a question about:

  • your rights as a significant other, spouse, child, beneficiary, or heir; 
  • another person’s rights as a possible vulnerable adult; 
  • what should be happening during the estate/trust administration process; or
  • the circumstances surrounding the creation of a Will or a trust?

Here at VJG we can not only answer your questions, but also have a whole host of tools to address any issues we may uncover, including but not limited to strongly worded letters regarding a Personal Representative/Trustee’s obligations, informal settlement negotiations, mediation, and finally litigation.  

Although we have significant experience litigating matters, we often leverage TEDRA (Trust Estate Dispute Resolution Act) to craft solutions without formal court proceedings, providing an effective and cost-efficient solution for our clients.