This blog series explores the problems and complexities that may occur when someone dies without a Will. Prior posts discussed the process for appointing an estate Administrator, the authority that an Administrator may or may not have, whether the Administrator may be required by the court to furnish bond, and an overview of intestate succession and inheritance laws that apply to people who die without Wills. In blog posts five through eight, I discussed the details of intestate succession in terms of the distribution to a surviving spouse, a registered domestic partner, or a live-in romantic partner, and what happens in relation to the rest of your family if you don’t have a Will. Blog posts nine and ten explored the family support statutes.
In my previous blog post, I mentioned that the statutory requirements of intestate distribution may be changed by entering into a valid Nonjudicial Dispute Resolution Agreement pursuant to Washington’s Trusts and Estates Distribution Act (TEDRA). In this blog post, my final post of this series, I will discuss how that can be accomplished. RCW 11.96A.220 states, “If all parties agree to a resolution of [an estate administration, trust or probate-related] matter, then the agreement shall be evidenced by a written agreement signed by all parties. Subject to the provisions of RCW 11.96A.240, the written agreement shall be binding and conclusive on all persons interested in the estate or trust.” Such an agreement is known as a Nonjudicial Dispute Resolution Agreement. These agreements are not “normal” settlement agreements. Several requirements must be met in order to bind the parties, so it’s important to work with an attorney who is familiar with the Act. Often, multiple attorneys are involved in drafting these agreements, as each party must have an opportunity to have the agreement reviewed by their own attorney.
How does this work in practice? In a prior blog post, I provided an example of an estate distribution, required by the laws of intestate succession, that didn’t make sense. It created a situation in which the surviving spouse was essentially impoverished while the decedent’s son, who did not need an estate distribution, nonetheless received funds as an estate beneficiary. If all parties agree (and “parties” is a rather complex term of art pursuant to the TEDRA definition), it would be possible, in that hypothetical instance, to enter into a Nonjudicial Dispute Resolution Agreement that would change the distribution mandated by the laws of intestate succession. The widow could potentially receive a greater distribution than she was otherwise entitled to by statute, or perhaps could even receive the entire estate distribution if all parties agreed for the estate to be distributed in such a manner.
Some of the hazards of intestate succession, as described in this blog series, can potentially be worked out through TEDRA. So, you may be thinking, it’s not such a big deal to keep procrastinating about my estate planning, right? Because if there’s a problem, it can be resolved. Think again. First, who is resolving the problem? Not you. Because you have left a complete mess for your family and loved ones to fix, often at great effort and expense. Do you really want that to be a part of your legacy – making the people you love, and who are mourning your death, hassle with the distribution of your estate because you didn’t step up to the plate and take care of it yourself? Second, because others are resolving it, keep in mind that they may resolve it in a way that you would not have liked.
As described throughout this blog series, the myriad of complex issues created by a lack of proper planning can cause tremendous headaches. I encourage you to plan ahead, by working with your estate attorney to prepare needed documents such as a Will, General Durable Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, Health Care Directive, and Memorial Instructions. We’d be happy to help!
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This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.