A Guide to Dealing with Death

Washington law allows a person to make a written directive instructing his or her physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining systems, such as tube feeding for hydration (water) and nutrition (food). These actions must be specifically indicated.  

“Living Will” Condition

  • Must be signed in the presence of two disinterested witnesses and included in the patient's medical records. 
  • The document may not be signed by relatives, beneficiaries of the estate, attending physicians or their employees, health facility employees in which the signer is a patient or any person who has a claim on the estate of the person making the living will. 
  • Procedures, which serve only to artificially prolong life, will be withdrawn or withheld only upon appropriate diagnosis by two physicians. 
  • A "living will" may be revoked at any time, verbally or in writing. Permitted methods of revocation are set forth in R.C.W. 70.122.040. 
  • Withholding of life-sustaining treatment in accordance with a valid patient's written directive does not constitute a suicide, nor invalidate or modify any existing policy of life insurance (R.C.W. 70.122.070
  • If person makes no decision, the law allows the families to decide. 

Organ Donation
Washington State Law

  • Allows any adult to donate all or any part of his or her body for transplantation, medical research or education. 
  • Requires hospitals and their medical personnel to ask any deceased individual's next of kin at or near the time of death, whether the deceased is an organ donor. 
  • Does not require the consent of surviving family members when the deceased person has authorized a gift, however, objections by the next of kin can cause delays, which make donations impossible. 

This law is to encourage medical personnel to offer the option of donating organs not to presser families.
The final decision is up to the family.

Share Your Wishes

  • Carry a donor card or driver's license notification at all times.
  • Inform your family, physician, designated agent, court appointed guardian or attorney of your wishes and where to find the authorizing documents. This includes telling them you don't want to be a donor as well.
  • Put something in your will but make sure you also carry the necessary authorization on your person. If you don't, your wish may not be recognized at the time of death.
  • Contact SightLife, LifeHealth Net or United Network for Organ Sharing for more information.

Health Care Directive
Click on the "Health Care Directive" for a downloadable form that you can use.

Estate Planning Options

Every person 18 years of age and older has the right to execute a will, leaving his or her property to any person or entity. Wills valid in another state will also be valid in Washington State. (Check with a legal adviser to determine if the will takes advantage of estate planning opportunities under Washington Law).

A will does not control property, which is subject to joint tenancy, a community property agreement, or has a designated beneficiary.

No Will (Intestacy)

When there is no will or other estate planning arrangement, the "Intestacy laws" specify persons entitled to the property. Those laws state:

  • The decedent's one-half interest in the community property passes to the surviving spouse.
  • Separate property, if any, will be divided according to state law. Commonly, without a will, separate property will go to the surviving spouse and the decedent's children on a 50-50 percentage basis.
  • Without surviving children, separate property is divided between the surviving spouse and the deceased's parents and/or siblings.
  • If no close relation is located, the estate reverts to the State of Washington.

Gift by List

Under Washington State law, certain types of personal property, mainly "tangible personal goods", can be bequeathed through a listing, which is separate from a will. Those items include furniture, cars, artwork, boats, precious metals, jewelry, stamps and clothing. Mobile homes, real estates, money, bank accounts or securities cannot be transferred through a list.

The list should be signed and dated, referenced in the will and attached to it. If changes are made to the list, each version should be signed and dated. Upon death, the list is then filed in court along with the will.

Joint Tenancy

Bank accounts, stocks, bonds and real estate are often owned in joint tenancy, with a right of survivor-ship. Under this arrangement, after the death of the one of the owners, the property automatically passes to the surviving owners.

Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a legal tool that can benefit some people by avoiding probate. It must be set up properly and requires periodic duties. Washington State has a simple and inexpensive probate system, so consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about estate planning to determine what is best for your specific circumstances. Both a living trust and a carefully drafted will can be planned to avoid estate taxes. [Note: only estates at $700,000 or more need to consider state estate taxes. The state filing threshold was to have gradually increased to $1,000,00 by the end of 2006. Contact the IRS for more information or a copy of Publication 950 "Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes."]

Be careful of non-attorneys who recommend estate-planning tools like living trusts, then attempt to sell investments, insurance or annuities to fund the trust. Such actions are a conflict of interest and may constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

Community Property Agreement

Washington is a community property state. That means most property acquired during a marriage is presumed to be owned equally by husband and wife. A community property agreement provides for transfer of community property to the surviving spouse without going through probate.

  • All community property agreements must be signed by both parties and acknowledged by a notary public.
  • Remember a surviving spouse does not automatically inherit the deceased person's half of the community property. That happens when there is a community property agreement or a will that leaves the deceased person's half of the property to the surviving spouse.
  • Property, always held separately, such as gifts and inheritances will be treated differently under state estate distribution laws, unless the community property agreement converts separate property to community property.
  • A community property agreement can unintentionally replace specific wishes in the deceased person's will.
  • Community property agreements can be revoked only by a written document signed by both marriage partners and acknowledged by a notary public. [Except when some other method of revocation exists or it is allowed under a durable power of attorney.]
  • There are different types of community property agreements. Some cover all property of the deceased (community or separate), others cover only community property. Make sure to check with a legal adviser to know the full effect of community property agreements.
  • It is still advisable to draw up a will to outline what happens to the property when the surviving spouse dies.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a document that appoints someone to act on your behalf. That person will handle whatever affairs you specify in the document if you are unable or unwilling to handle your own affairs. The durable power of attorney (POA) is a powerful legal document which can be misused; check with your attorney if you desire one [RCW 11.90]