Seattle attorney Michael Ballnik explains that Estate planning is the process of deciding and documenting what should happen if you or your partner becomes disabled or dies. Everyone can benefit from proper estate planning regardless of their assets or family situation but it is perhaps most important for people with minor children.
For those who do not engage in any advance planning or who fail to document their plan into binding legal documents, the State of Washington has developed a default system for determining who can make health care choices if they become disabled and who would receive your assets if they die. While this default system may not match your actual desires and may lead to areas of uncertainty that can cause conflict and/or waste resources, these default rules do exist and work for most people.However, there is no default rules regarding the care of minor children if both their parents die or become disabled. Instead, the children can be placed into foster care until one or more willing adults volunteer to become their legal guardian. The court then engages in a lengthy and often expensive investigation of these individuals before appointing one. If no qualified adult comes forward, the child remains in state care until they reach 18. If more than one adult comes forward, the custody battle can make the process even more expensive and delayed. Once the court has appointed an individual, any assets for the child’s care are controlled by the court and court reserves the right to second guess and control all decisions about investments and expenditures. This court oversight can be very expensive and may result in insufficient assets being left over to provide for the child’s care and higher education.