Anticipating an Inheritance? A Guide to Making Informed Decisions 

Receiving an inheritance can be a bittersweet experience, bringing a mix of emotions and numerous financial decisions. This guide aims to help you through this complex process, ensuring that you understand the critical aspects of probate, non-probate assets, and the implications of receiving an inheritance in various forms.
Understanding Probate and Non-Probate Assets
When a loved one passes away, their estate goes through a legal process known as probate. This involves validating the will, paying off debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. However, not all assets go through probate. Some assets, known as non-probate assets, pass directly to the beneficiaries. These may include:
    • Life insurance policies
    • Retirement accounts
    • Jointly owned property
As a beneficiary, you’ll need to complete claim forms for these non-probate assets. Effective communication with the executor or trustee is crucial to ensure a smooth transition of these assets.
CAUTION: Be cautious with inherited traditional IRAs and capital gains assets, as they may have tax implications. Income taxes from traditional IRAs and capital gains taxes from the sale of assets are calculated from the date of death. Consulting with a tax professional is advisable to understand these implications fully.
Receiving an Inheritance: Trust or Outright?

Inheritances can be received in trust or outright.

    • Inheritance in Trust: Review the distribution provisions of the trust to understand when and how you’ll receive your inheritance.
    • Inheritance Outright: You’ll have immediate control over the assets.

It’s important to maintain separate property, especially if you’re married. This means keeping your inherited assets separate from your spouse’s assets to protect them from potential future claims. Additionally, update your estate planning documents to address the new assets, ensuring that your wishes will be carried out upon your death.

Ensuring Asset Protection and Tax Efficiency in Washington State
In Washington State, the estate tax exclusion amount is relatively low compared to federal thresholds. As of 2023, the exclusion amount is $2.193 million. If the estate exceeds this amount, it may be subject to state estate taxes, which can significantly impact the inheritance.
To ensure asset protection and tax efficiency for an inheritance, consider the following strategies:
    • Work Closely with the Grantor: Collaborate with the grantor, often a parent, to ensure the inheritance is structured for maximum asset protection and tax efficiency. Understanding the grantor’s intentions helps manage the inheritance according to their wishes.
    • Set Up an Inheritor’s Trust: Given the low estate tax exclusion amount in Washington State, setting up an inheritor’s trust is particularly important for inheritances that exceed this threshold. An inheritor’s trust provides asset protection and ensures a tax-efficient transfer to future generations. This trust structure helps mitigate estate taxes and protects the assets from unnecessary diminution.
    • Consult with Professionals: Engage with legal, financial, and tax advisors to address the complexities of inheritance. These professionals offer valuable guidance on estate planning, tax implications, and asset protection, ensuring all legal and financial aspects are properly addressed.

Implementing these strategies helps maintain the value of the inheritance and secures its transfer to future generations. Effective communication with the grantor and consultation with professionals are key to successfully safeguarding the inheritance.

Receiving an inheritance involves a mix of emotions and important financial decisions. Understanding the differences between probate and non-probate assets, being aware of tax implications, and choosing between trust or outright inheritance are crucial steps. In Washington State, where the estate tax exclusion amount is relatively low, collaborating with the grantor, setting up an inheritor’s trust, and consulting with professionals can help protect and efficiently manage the inheritance. Implementing these strategies ensures the value of the inheritance is maintained and securely transferred to future generations.