A will is not the only way to distribute your property when you die. Other common will alternatives include intestacy, nonprobate assets, revocable living trusts, and community property agreements.
When a person dies without a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” If a person without a will dies owning probate assets subject to distribution in Washington State, the assets can be distributed according to Washington State’s laws of intestate distribution.
You can think of the intestacy laws as a very basic will that Washington State gives its residents for free. If you are happy with how your property in Washington State will be distributed under the laws of intestate distribution, you may not need to make a will at all.
Revocable Living Trusts
The revocable living trust is a kind of trust that can be used to avoid the time and expense of a probate proceeding. Property owned by your revocable living trust is treated as a nonprobate asset when you die. The basic idea is that by transferring ownership of all of your probate assets to a revocable living trust, you will no longer own any probate assets, so a probate proceeding is not necessary when you die.
A revocable living trust is often not an appropriate estate planning tool in Washington State, especially if your main goal in making such a trust to avoid probate proceedings. The complexity and costs of creating and maintaining a revocable living trust are usually higher than those of an uncomplicated Washington State probate proceeding.
If you own property in two or more states, a revocable living trust may be appropriate to avoid going through probate in multiple states. This is especially true if you own property in a state with expensive, lengthy, or complicated probate procedures.
Community Property Agreements
Under Washington State law, spouses are allowed to make agreements with each other to convert their separate property into community property (or the other way around). Under a community property agreement, spouses agree to convert all of their separate property into community property. One effect of such an agreement is that the surviving spouse may be able to inherit all of the community property of the first spouse to die without having to go through a probate. This is a small benefit compared to the many serious downsides of making a community property agreement.
We do not recommend community property agreements.