Definition: Estate Plan

An estate plan is the plan a person makes for the management of the person’s finances and health care in the event the person becomes incapacitated, and the plan for the administration of the person’s estate after the person has died. Under the laws of Washington State, a person typically uses an estate plan to accomplish these goals:

  • control how the person’s property will be distributed upon the person’s death;
  • avoid uncertainties in the administration of probate proceedings;
  • avoid or minimize estate tax liability;
  • arrange for the care of the person’s minor children and other dependents upon the person’s death;
  • appoint others to manage the person’s financial and medical matters if the person is unable to do so; and
  • choose whether life-sustaining treatment should be continued if the person is ever in a terminal or permanent unconscious condition without any reasonable probability of recovering.

Estate plans accomplish these goals using a variety of legal devices, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives, together with beneficiary designations and ownership interests of nonprobate assets. Every person’s unique needs and goals must be considered when deciding which devices to use for the person’s estate plan.

Basic Estate Plan

A basic estate plan is an estate plan that includes legal documents which, together with proper nonprobate asset beneficiary designations, are likely to address the estate planning needs of most people, but which avoid the complexities of drafting and enforcing a trust. The term “basic estate plan” is not a clearly defined term in the legal industry. We use the term “basic estate plan” on this website to mean an estate plan made up of some or all of the following documents: a simple will, a durable power of attorney for financial matters, a durable power of attorney for health care, and a health care directive.

A basic estate plan notably does not include any trust provisions and is therefore not sufficient to meet the needs of everyone. A trust is often by far the most expensive, time-consuming, and confusing aspect of an estate plan. Eliminating trusts from an estate plan is a cost-savings measure, but doing so also limits what the estate plan can accomplish. Because a basic estate plan does not include a trust, it cannot accomplish any of the following:

  • planning for the avoidance or elimination of estate tax;
  • placing restrictions on gifts of property;
  • avoiding probate in multiple states where you own property; or
  • making arrangements for the ongoing care of another person after you die.

If you would like to draft your own basic estate plan documents for Washington State using our instructions, visit our Get Started page.