Surprise Legal Information
Many of my clients are surprised to learn that the probate system in Washington State is considered to be the best in the United States. Why is that? For one thing, our laws provide that the executor/personal representative named in a person's will can administer the estate without the intervention of the courts. It is often possible in Washington State for the probate attorney to make one trip to court to get the decedent's will admitted to court and to get the personal representative empowered to perform his or her duties, and that can be the only trip to court that is required. That surprises a lot of people.
Many clients are also surprised to discover that in Washington State, our citizens have a clear choice between choosing an estate plan that features a will rather than a revocable living trust. There are certain states, notably California, where revocable living trusts are almost mandatory because of certain state laws which make probate very expensive. One such law sets a mandatory percentage for the probate attorney to receive as a fee, regardless of how little or how much work the attorney does to help the personal representative get through the probate process. That is completely different than here in Washington State where attorneys only get paid for what they actually do to help the executor/personal representative settle the estate.
There are certain situations where a revocable living trust is a very good thing to have, especially when citizens of Washington State own real estate located in other states. Then a revocable living trust can be used to save substantial expenses in settling the ownership of real estate owned out of state.
Mediation----there is power in mediation. Washington State is a leader in using mediation to settle disputes. Recent legislation passed in this state (entitled Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act, or "TEDRA") provides an avenue for beneficiaries who are warring over distribution of assets in a will that is in probate or a trust where assets are to be distributed due to the death of the maker of the trust to attempt to settle their differences through mediation rather than going through the standard court process. I have acted as a mediator for a number of years, and I have seen some rather remarkable results achieved through this process. One of the reasons is that the disputing parties have the major input in trying to resolve their disputes. The difference is that there is a trained mediator in the middle acting as a facilitator. I will tell you that this creates a very different environment where resolution of troublesome issues becomes not only possible but highly probable. Keep this fact in mind. It may come in handy some day.
We who live in Washington State seem to have a little trouble getting our transportation issues solved, but we certainly are very progressive in other ways. The three subjects discussed above are excellent illustrations of how our state is a leader in innovative thinking in at least these three featured areas.