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Essential Planning for Everyone

Seattle is increasingly a place where it is hard for people with moderate or low incomes to get by. Paying for the basics can eat up all available resources, and this leaves our residents feeling that they cannot afford to plan for their death or disability. However, there are many cost-free things that families can do to help reduce the stress that their loved ones would go through if they suffered incapacity or died.

  1. Organize: Leave a trail that can let your loved ones figure out what all they should be doing if you cannot manage your own affairs anymore or pass away. Creating a list that details the following is a great starting point:

a. Personal Documents – where you keep your birth certificates, marriage licenses, medical history, social security information and a copy of your driver’s license.

b. Online Accounts – Including company name, type of account and what you want done with it. This can include social media accounts, email accounts, access to your digital devices, etc.

c. Insurance Information – who your insurance carrier is and what policies you have in place, for example: life, auto, home, umbrella, medical.

d. Financial information – list all your financial institutions, like checking and savings accounts, the type of account and account numbers, as well as approximate balances.

e. Real Estate – deeds, mortgages, records of any improvements.

2) Write a Letter: Often the most meaningful action you can take when getting your life in order is to leave a letter to loved ones that passes on your values, wishes and hopes. This gives loved ones some closure and can also serve as guidance to them when they handle the details of your estate.

3) Leave instruction for disposition of remains: In Washington, you can write a letter that states your wishes regarding disposition of remains and memorial service/funeral. To be legally enforceable, it only needs to be signed by you and witnessed.

4) Name a Guardian: Wills and durable powers of attorney are two places you can name a guardian for your children, under age 18. Exercising your right to nominate a guardian is an important act that all parents should consider. Some people are comfortable creating their own will, and others choose to use an attorney for professional advice. A will is a legal document and if someone is not certain about what effect the document will have, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney before executing it.

5) Take Charge of Your Advance Care Planning

a. Decide what types of treatment you would or would not want if diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and complete a health care directive to make those wishes enforceable. You should always discuss these decisions with your health care provider. Many local care providers provide this form free of charge to patients.

b. Complete a Durable Power of Attorney to designate who you chose to manage your medical decisions if you were not able to manage them yourself. Many of the large health care providers in Seattle offer this form to patients without cost. In addition, Northwest Justice Project has provided a guide to this form on

About the Author

Megan Gebhardt, owner of Gebhardt Law Office, focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Board of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic. Megan lives in Seattle with her husband and two young sons. She is the Owner of Gebhardt Law Office, and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Board of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic. She is an enthusiastic supporter of PEPS and always recommends it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting. Her family is still close with their PEPS group and hopes to remain so for the years to come.

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