Settling debts and distributing assets after someone has passed away? We can help.

You can't take it with you. That's what they say. But a lawyer experienced in probate matters can help surviving family members settle your debts and distribute your assets after you're gone, with or without a Will. Generally speaking, probate lawyers help the Personal Representative ("PR") of the estate manage the probate process. They also may help with estate planning, such as the drafting of Wills or Trusts; advise on powers of attorney; or even serve as a PR.

Of course, the process will likely go smoother when the decedent has left a Will prior to his or her death. If an individual dies with a Will, a lawyer may be hired to advise parties such as the PR or a beneficiary on various legal matters. For instance, a lawyer may review the Will to ensure it wasn't signed or written under duress (or against the best interests of the individual). Elderly people with dementia, for example, may be vulnerable to undue influence by individuals who want a cut of the estate.

There are numerous reasons that Wills may be challenged, although most Wills go through probate without a problem. Additionally, a lawyer may be responsible for performing any of the following tasks when advising a PR:

* Collecting and managing life insurance proceeds;
* Getting the decedent's property appraised;
* Finding and securing all of the decedent's assets;
* Advising on how to pay the decedent's bills and settle debts;
* Preparing/filing documents as required by the court;
* Managing the estate's checkbook; and
* Determining whether any estate taxes are owed.

If you die without having written and signed a Will, you are said to have died "intestate." When this happens, your estate is distributed according to the intestacy laws of the state where the property is, regardless of your wishes. For instance, the surviving spouse receives all of your intestate property under many states' intestate laws. However, intestacy laws vary widely from state to state.

In these situations, a lawyer may be hired to assist the PR and the assets will be distributed according to state law. A lawyer may help with some of the tasks listed above but is bound by state intestacy laws, regardless of the decedent's wishes or the family members' needs.

A relative who wants to be the estate's PR must first secure what are called "renunciations" or "declinations" from the decedent's other relatives. A renunciation or declination is a legal statement renouncing one's right or declining to administer the estate. A lawyer can help secure and file these statements with the court, and then assist the PR with the probate process (managing the estate checkbook, determining estate taxes, securing assets, etc.).

If you have been named Executor or Personal Representative of someone's estate and need legal advice about your duties and responsibilities, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Estate planning for blended families can be extra tricky. We can help.

Chances are, you or someone you know is part of a blended family. Fully 42% of adults in the U.S. now have some kind of step-relationship, according to Pew Research. That’s over 95 million people.

For the millions of divorced, widowed, and remarried Americans out there, estate planning is extra tricky. In a blended family situation, there are more opportunities to get it wrong, and the stakes—ensuring your current spouse is taken care of or that your children and stepchildren are treated according to your wishes—are often higher.

Additionally, spouses—current, former, or both—may not see eye-to-eye on key decisions. Who takes care of the kids if one parent dies? Which assets belong to which spouse? Working through these details can not only avoid future estate planning hassles but also help maintain healthy relationships between all parties involved.

To get started, work through these questions:

* What do you want to happen when you die?
* Who do you want to make decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself?
* Who will provide for your kids?
* Who will take over as guardian for any minor children when you die? Do the kids get a say?
* What are you going to do for your surviving spouse? How do you want to provide for them? Do you want to give them broad decision-making authority or would you rather limit it?
* Do you and your present and/or former spouse have shared objectives?
* Will you need two separate lawyers to handle your plans?
* How open are you willing to be in the planning conversation with a past and/or present spouse and a lawyer?
* Do you live in a community property state?

When you sit down to think about these matters, keep in mind any wealth or age disparities between yourself and any future or former spouses. If remarrying, do you need a prenuptial agreement? If there’s a big age difference, who’s more likely to die first?

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to see happen, it’s important to work with a lawyer to formalize and structure your plans. Free online services are not sophisticated enough to deal with the complexities of blended family estate planning, Additionally, it’s important to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer who has worked with blended families before.

A good, foundational estate plan can be costly, but it’s a bargain when you consider the benefits. Planning not only gives you peace of mind about what will happen to your assets when you’re gone but also allows you to preserve the peace with loved ones now.

If we can be of service to you and your family, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.

We have a long history of representing auto collision injury victims and their survivors.

We have a long history of representing auto collision injury victims and their survivors. We zealously advocate on our clients' behalf as we gather evidence, analyze liability and damages, and negotiate with the insurance company for them. If you, a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker have been injured in a car crash, we can help. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment for a free initial consultation today.

Hiring a Lawyer When You Start a New Business

When people decide to start a new business, they usually have a great idea and some money to invest in the enterprise. Some people opt to start the business by themselves or with family members, while others have partners or other investors who will not be involved with the day-to-day affairs of the business.

The laws that apply to start-up businesses differ based on the specifics of the situation, and even business people who decide to go it alone have options to protect themselves from personal liability for business debts and obligations. For this and other important reasons, you most likely will need a lawyer for your startup.

CONTRACTS. Most businesses execute contracts for space, services, and supplies. Businesses often have agreements between partners, investors, and employees. It is important to get it right so you don't end up in court.

REGISTERING, LICENSING, AND PERMITS. Some business entities are required to register with the state in order to be recognized. Even businesses that are not required to register may be required to obtain licenses or permits.

FORM OF BUSINESS. The choice of business form (i.e. sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation) often dictates the legal responsibilities and potential liability of those involved in leading the business, as well as the manner in which it may operate. For example, choosing the wrong entity may make you personally liable for the wrongs of employees or partners.

MULTI-STATE BUSINESS. The preconditions to forming and conducting a business entity in one state may not be accepted in another state. If you are not careful, the protections you have in your home state of operations may be lost if you do business in another state.

CAPITAL. Businesses need to raise money, keep records of income and distributions, and behave in a fiscally responsible manner. Different business entities may require different procedures for raising capital and making distributions.

VARIETY OF ENTITIES. Although there are essentially five basic business entities, there are other options within these entities that determine things like double taxation and liability for the acts of partners.

AUTONOMY. With many business entities, the things you don't decide are decided for you. Most states have adopted uniform laws that fill in the gaps for business entities where their charters, bylaws, and other organizing documents are silent. You may be subject to a whole set of laws and regulations that you don't even know exist.

TAXES. Different business forms provide different tax advantages and disadvantages. The only thing more crucial to a new business is liability.

LIABILITY. Different business forms provide different protections and risks to the business owners/investors. Personal liability means that your business puts everything you own at risk. A lawyer can help you avoid this situation or minimize your risk. Knowing about your personal liability, and reducing the risk that your business may devastate the economic well-being of you and your family, is well worth a visit to an experienced lawyer.

In most cases, you're going to need the services of a lawyer for your startup, perhaps for tax services or employment law compliance. Whatever the reason, make sure you contact the right lawyer for your needs. You can get in touch with us to discuss your needs and to learn how to set up a business that maximizes profits and minimizes liabilities. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

It can be overwhelming to administer a Trust, but we can help.

It can be overwhelming to administer a Trust, but we can help. If you have been named the Trustee of a Trust, you have a long road ahead of you. Even if everything in a Trust is spelled out in the clearest possible terms, every Trust is different. These differences can determine exactly how much work will be involved, in addition to the long list of activities that are typically a part of trust administration:

* Obtaining legal documents and records necessary to administer the Trust and certify the validity of the Trust when dealing with third parties.
* Collecting monies owed to the Trust.
* Maintaining an inventory of Trust property.
* Consulting financial, tax, and legal advisors regarding proper administration of the Trust.
* Paying debts and expenses of the Trust.
* Managing Trust assets and investments.
* Obtaining appraisals or valuations of Trust assets.
* Selling Trust property.
* Keeping accurate records of Trust income and expenditures.
* Filing tax returns.
* Providing information to Trust beneficiaries if required by the Trust.
* Distributing Trust income and property to beneficiaries.
* Executing documents to transfer title to Trust property to beneficiaries.

Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can help with any of these Trustee duties. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

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Wills vs. Trusts

There is a lot of confusion over whether you need a Will versus a Trust. Normally, the Trusts we are discussing are Revocable Living Trusts - Trusts that can be amended and/or revoked during your lifetime.

Wills work fine for most people. Probate in Washington is not difficult. It's not like California where the fees are based on estate size. Wills work perfectly well and are not necessarily to be avoided solely "to avoid probate."

Trusts work well if there is property is multiple states so you are not probating in several jurisdictions. There is more privacy with a Trust than probating a Will as the Trust documents generally do not become public records like filing the Wills and probate documents at the courthouse. Trusts do not have to be probated - but if you forget to put something into your Trust it might end up in your estate and still subject to probate.

The vast majority of estates (Wills or Trusts) have no estate tax issues - the 2019 federal estate tax exemption amount is now $11,400,000 which, with proper planning, for a married couple could double to $22,800,000. Washington excludes the first $2,193,000 from tax. Washington then has a graduated tax from 10-20% that increases over the first $9 million of the taxable estate.

Trusts do not stop fighting heirs and court battles as Washington has the "Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act" (TEDRA) which allows such estate battles to be brought to court.

The point is, each situation is unique. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to help sort out what is best for you and your family.

Staying off social media while your personal injury case is in process.

For our clients who have been injured in car crashes, we always advise them to shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts during the claims process. But let’s be honest, this is easier said than done. At the very least, during a personal injury claim, be careful about what you post to social media and remember, nothing is private.

PRIVATE PROFILES AREN'T PRIVATE. When we ask a client to shut down their Facebook or Twitter page, the first response we get is a bargain: “What if I set my profile to private?” Guess what? Just because your profile is private doesn’t mean that it can’t be accessed in the event of a lawsuit. In fact, your ENTIRE Facebook page can be subpoenaed during the discovery process. This includes private messages, chats, pictures, status updates, and even your Facebook games.

WHAT WILL THE DEFENSE DO WITH MY FACEBOOK INFORMATION? The second option clients suggest when we ask them to shut down their page is not posting about the accident at all. “I won’t post any injury pictures,” “I’ll have friends call me about it instead,” etc. While the defense would likely use posts about the collision against you, that’s not all they’re looking for. Defense attorneys are looking at your behavior after the collision. For example, posting pictures of yourself on vacation, dancing, or playing sports following an accident just sets up the insurance company to say, “does this look like someone who’s injured to you?”

And whatever you do, don't post pictures of the collision or the vehicle damage and never - NEVER - post something like, "I was in an accident last night, but don't worry, I'm OK!"

GETTING TAGGED IN PICTURES. Remember, you’re not the only one who can post on your Facebook wall. A colleague of ours recently had a case with a client who was injured in an auto collision but who posted a status about going to the gym with a few friends. The post was dated shortly after her collision. This wasn’t a case of ours, so we don’t know if the woman was exaggerating her injuries, or if she thought “walking it off” would do her some good. The bottom line was that she posted about doing a very physical activity right after her accident. While you might say to yourself that you’d never post vacation photos or gym statuses after a crash, what if these people didn’t bring it upon themselves? We’re all familiar with the “tag” tool on Facebook. Most of the time we laugh off how unflattering Facebook tags can be compared to your own pictures, but in personal injury cases, they can cost you real money. And if the defense catches sight of that photo of you on a treadmill before you can “untag” yourself, they would be more than happy to use it against you.

CAN THE DEFENSE SUBPOENA YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA? In this day in age, it seems pretty unfair that attorneys can subpoena your information, but yes, yes they can. It sucks, but it’s perfectly legal. Mediums of communication change from generation to generation. Our great-grandparents sent letters to one another, our parents spoke on the telephone, our generation communicates on Facebook.

The laws haven’t caught up to this new mode of communication yet, and unfortunately, judges are tending to side with the defense attorneys. When they ask for your social media information, they get it all – even your private chat conversations.

WHAT TO SAY ON SOCIAL MEDIA AFTER A CRASH. Let us reiterate: If you’ve been injured in an auto collision, DELETE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS.

If you have to say something to your friends to let them know that you’re unplugging for a bit, just make a status update or tweet with the basics; “Hey guys, I was in a car accident recently. I’m going to turn my social media accounts off for a while. You know my phone number if you need to contact me.” Then follow through. Delete the account. Don’t avoid posting, don’t make your account private, delete it. It’ll be there in a few months when your case is settled.

If you have questions about personal injury cases or what else to do or not do after a collision, give us a call at 253.858.5434.

Do you need help writing or enforcing a contract? You've come to the right place.

Do you need help writing or enforcing a contract? You've come to the right place. Whether you are a small business, a large company, or an individual, we can help. We draft, negotiate, and execute agreements in any number of settings -- like business contracts and independent contractor agreements. We also assist with contract disputes such as breach of contract claims.

If you have a questions or an issue regarding a contract, either one you're a party to or one you're about to be, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone or via Skype or FaceTime.

Interesting recent decision from the Washington State Supreme Court regarding employer liability for employees' sexual harassment, Floeting v. Group Health, 434 P.3d 39 (Wash. 2019).

Earlier this year, the Washington State Supreme Court handed down its decision in Floeting v. Group Health Coop., 434 P.3d 39 (Wash. 2019), ruling that places of public accommodation are strictly liable for illegal discrimination by their employees (including for claims of sexual harassment). Points from the decision include:

• Under the plain language of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), employers are directly liable for the sexual harassment of members of the public by their employees (just as they would be if their employees turned customers away because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation).

• An employer will be strictly liable if its employee caused the harm prohibited by the statute–from the first such event–even if it did not participate in the discrimination and was not negligent in training or supervising its employees.

• There is no statutorily required pervasiveness or severity requirement for discriminatory conduct in the public accommodations context. A single discriminatory act in a place of public accommodation may violate the WLAD. (However, the conduct must be “objectively discriminatory” under the “reasonable person” standard.)

• The Court reasoned: “If employers know that the only way they can prevent lawsuits is by preventing their employees from discriminating at all, they will try even harder to make sure that their employees are well trained, are well supervised, and do not discriminate.”

The scope of "any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, or amusement" (defined at RCW 49.60.040(2)) includes: grocery stores, retail stores, gas stations, hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, banks, theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, museums, auditoriums, convention halls, taxis, private bus lines, barber shops and beauty salons, doctor and dentist offices, fitness centers, and nonprofit organizations, such as food banks, shelters and senior centers.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this decision.

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The legal and financial complexities involved in probate and trust administration can be challenging. We can help guide you through the process.

Losing a friend or family member can be a difficult and emotional time. The legal and financial complexities involved in probate and trust administration can be challenging. We can help guide you through the process, taking on as much or as little of the work as needed, to ensure that the estate is settled correctly, always with sensitivity to the people involved and a view to avoid disagreements before they arise. With a lawyer handling the complexity of estate administration, our clients have more time to focus on grieving and supporting family members.

Another side of our practice is working with trustees of established trusts to ensure compliance with the trust agreement and the law. Trustees are required to provide certain notice and information to beneficiaries when a trust is established as well as throughout the term of the trust. The trust agreement usually provides for additional requirements, including terms for distributions. A trustee has a fiduciary duty of the utmost good faith and loyalty to beneficiaries, and it is critical that the trustee is well informed and perform his or her role diligently.

In addition to representing personal representatives and trustees, we also represent heirs and beneficiaries of estates and trusts, who feel they are not being treated fairly by a personal representative or trustee.

If you have questions about estate or trust administration, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Part of every estate planning conversation with your lawyer should include a discussion of life insurance.

Many people own life insurance policies that are no longer needed to protect against estate taxes. Part of every estate planning discussion with your lawyer should include a review of life insurance needs and the extent to which the needs are met by existing policies. Some people may discover they own policies that are no longer required for family security. A gift to charity of a policy that is no longer needed may offer income tax savings. Life insurance proceeds also can be divided between charitable and family beneficiaries, and can fund a charitable remainder trust or charitable gift annuity.

If you have questions about how life insurance fits into your overall estate plan, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Interesting recent decision regarding amending trusts from the Washington State Court of Appeals, In re Estate of Meeks, No. 35270-6-III.

Interesting recent decision regarding amending trusts from the Washington State Court of Appeals:

At Lloyd Meeks's death in 2002, a bypass trust was to be funded, with the remaining assets passing to a marital trust for his wife, Mabel. At her death, assets remaining in either trust were to pass 80% to the couple's only child, Mary, with the remainder to be divided among several charities. The trust could not be amended after Lloyd's death, but Mabel was given a limited power of appointment over the bypass trust.

Because the trust at Lloyd's death was less than the amount excluded from estate tax, all assets were to be placed in the bypass trust. Mabel didn't retitle the assets in the trust's name. Instead, she consulted a lawyer about making changes. She wanted to reduce Mary's share to 75% and leave the remaining assets to a charity for cancer research. At Mary's death in 2005, Mabel again sought to change the distribution, making several smaller charitable bequests, with the rest of the estate going to two charities for cancer research.

When Mabel died in 2015, the successor trustee asked the court to determine the validity of the trust amendments. the trial court determined that the intent was to allow the survivor to have a power of appointment, but added that it might not be appropriate for the court to reform the trust. Instead, the court reformed Mabel's Will, incorporating her power of appointment in favor of the charities. The trustee appealed.

The Washington State Court of Appeals found that state law permits the court to reform a valid Will to conform to the testator's intent, but does not allow the court to import terms from a different document that was not executed with the formalities of a Will. There was no evidence that, when the Will was executed in 1994, Mabel intended to make the charitable distributions incorporated 11 years later. If the amendments to the trust had met the formalities required of a Codicil, it might have been possible to conclude that it was a Codicil. Lacking that, the second amendment fails, said the Court. In re Estate of Meeks, No. 35270-6-III.

If you have questions about Wills or Trusts, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Interesting recent decision out of the New York Surrogate's Court regarding charitable trusts, In re Estate of Dawe, 2018 NY Slip Op. 28233.

Interesting recent decision out of the New York Surrogate's Court regarding charitable trusts:

In his Will, Alan Dawe created a Trust to continue and expand the genealogical research, archives, and website he had created for the Dawe family. Trust income could be used for administrative costs, but principal was not to be invaded. At the Trust's termination (21 years after the death of two relatives), assets were to pass to the Godfrey Library, where Dawe carried out much of his genealogical research.

Barry Dawe, Alan's brother, asked the court to declare the Trust void, on the grounds that it failed to name a beneficiary and had no charitable purpose. If declared void, the residue would pass by intestacy. Godfrey Library conceded that the Trust was invalid, but proposed that Trust provisions in the Will be excised and disregarded, resulting in the acceleration of the remainder interest to the library.

The Court found there was no substantial benefit to the public from Dawe's research, so the Trust could not be considered charitable in nature. The Court agreed that the Trust was invalid, but noted that, when asked to choose between two interpretations of a Will--one of which will result in intestacy--it is generally presumed that someone who goes to the trouble of making a Will did not intend any part of the estate to pass by intestacy. Disregarding the invalid Trust provision would not disturb Dawe's overall testamentary plan, said the Court, but allowing the residue to pass by intestacy to the family was contrary to the Will. In re Estate of Dawe, 2018 NY Slip Op. 28233.

If you have questions about setting up a Trust in your Will, charitable or otherwise, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Interesting Recent Decision Out of the U.S. Tax Court, Grainger v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2018-117.

Interesting recent decision out of the U.S. Tax Court:

Estelle Grainger created what she called her "personal tax shelter" by buying clothes at a retail store at steep discounts, contributing them to Goodwill, and claiming charitable deductions for the original retail price. She even accumulated loyalty points and dividends at the retail store where she shopped, allowing her to reduce her purchase prices even further. She deducted $18,288, $32,672, and $34,410 in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively. Her 2012 gift items cost her only $2,520 in cash and $3,527 in loyalty points.

The IRS reduced her deduction to her cash outlay, saying she had not used a qualified method of establishing fair market value. To substantiate her deductions, Grainger produced store receipts, marked-down price tags, and receipts from Goodwill. The Court said Grainger fell far short of substantiating her gifts, noting that because the donations were of similar items, they needed to be grouped together. Since the value of the similar items exceeded the $5,000 substantiation threshold, a qualified appraisal was required. (I.R.C. sec. 170(f)(11)(C))

Grainger failed to obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgement of the gifts (I.R.C. sec. 170(f)(8)(B)) and the receipts did not specify the nature of the clothing or the number of items donated. The Court added that even if she had satisfied the substantiation requirements, the deductions would still be disallowed because she failed to use a "legitimate methodology" for determining fair market value. Grainger v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-117.

If you have questions about using charitable giving as part of your tax planning, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.