Virginia Trusts and Estates Lawyer
At some point, trusts and estates laws affect almost everyone. This can arise when a parent or other loved one dies, when an adult child becomes incapacitated because of an injury, or when you realize that you need to plan for your own future. In these and many other situations, you may benefit from the skill and knowledge of a Virginia trusts and estates lawyer.
The goal of a trusts and estates lawyer is to guide clients through often-complex legal and financial matters as they make decisions that affect them, their families, and others for whom they care. A skilled attorney understands the emotional and personal challenges of these matters.
In addition to advising you about your legal rights under Virginia laws, your lawyer could provide experienced professional guidance regarding estate planning, probate and estate administration, wills and trusts, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, estate and gift tax planning, and guardianships and conservatorships. When you need help with these and other legal issues, an experienced lawyer could provide legal advice to help you reach your personal and financial goals.
Protecting Your Legacy through Comprehensive Estate Planning
Estate planning is an important process for anyone who wants to maximize their financial and life goals. The starting point for an estate plan is for the planning attorney to work closely with an individual so that they understand the person’s circumstances and what they hope to achieve for the remainder of their life and beyond. Armed with this, legal counsel can suggest options for building an estate plan that meets their wishes while preserving their wealth.
Estate planning can involve a number of objectives and legal mechanisms for achieving them. Some of these include transferring assets (via a will or other mechanism), tax planning, protecting assets, and planning for incapacity or medical exigencies.
It is never too early or too late to create an estate plan. Without a well-considered estate plan, a person may leave their loved ones unprepared or unprotected when they pass away or when a serious medical condition arises. Creating an estate plan while healthy and thinking ahead allows for the time and opportunity to make important decisions about the future.
The Importance of a Well-Drafted Will
It is important to have professional help when it comes time to write a will. Although book stores and the internet are full of samples and forms for wills, none of these can take the place of personal and individual attention from an experienced professional.
A trusts and estates lawyer in Virginia can do much more than make sure that a person has a will that meets minimal legal requirements. Instead, they could work with the individual to make the will part of a comprehensive plan to preserve and protect their wealth and accomplish their goals.
Trust funds are not just for the wealthy. For anyone with assets to pass on in life or after, establishing one or more trust could be an important part of a comprehensive estate plan. Trusts and estates lawyers can help with making decisions regarding trusts and establishing appropriate types of trusts.
A properly structured and funded trust can be a good way to ensure that assets go to the right person. With the help of skilled counsel, an individual can structure trusts to pass wealth on after death without going through the probate process or to care for specific persons before the grantor’s death. Trusts are also an important part of tax planning. Finally, trusts can allow for setting conditions on future inheritance, aid in protecting assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, protect against misuse or wasting of assets, and serve other important goals.
Estate and Gift Tax Planning
Skilled trusts and estates lawyers also understand the potential burdens of federal, Virginia, and local tax laws. Taxes that can affect estates include capital gains, income, gift, estate, among others. A complete estate plan considers these potential impacts and a skilled planning lawyer could help design efficient methods for reducing the overall tax burden to the client’s estate and their beneficiaries.
An attorney well-versed in tax and estate laws can suggest a number of means to avoid unnecessary taxes as part of a full estate plan. Some of these include:
- Planned giving to family members or others
- Charitable giving
- Establishing particular types of trusts
- Making full use of available federal and Virginia tax exemptions
- Creation of Family Limited Partnerships or other entities
- Purchasing life insurance
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate and tax planning. A proper plan considers all aspects of the estate’s assets together with the objectives of the individual and applicable laws.
Other Ways a Lawyer Can Help with Estate Planning in Virginia
Other aspects of estate planning can include:
- Addressing future medical care
- Establishing who will have authority to make difficult medical decisions in the event of incapacity
- Planning for the care of minor children or other dependents
- Creating farm and business succession plans
- Planning for the care of property, pets, and other unique possessions
- Planning charitable giving
Modifying an Estate Plan
Many estate planning instruments such as wills, trusts and powers of attorney are not intended to be stagnant. They may benefit from periodic review and updating as laws, family dynamics, or other circumstances change can be important to ensuring that someone’s wishes are in place at the appropriate times. For this reason, many people benefit from having an ongoing relationship with their trusts and estates lawyer.
Throughout the planning process, a Virginia trusts and estates lawyer’s goal is to help a person understand the legal tools available to them so that they can make informed decisions. Although no lawyer can guarantee a particular result, a skilled legal professional can help with the planning process so that a client can preserve their wealth, prepare for foreseeable contingencies, and otherwise help achieve their objectives.
Probate and Estate Administration in Virginia
When someone dies, the law specifies processes for distributing assets, paying debts, and otherwise settling the estate. This process is generally called “probate.” In Virginia, the Circuit Court for the county where the decedent resided or owned a home handles their probate case. Although this is a court-supervised process, the Circuit Court Clerk presides over it and judges only become involved to resolve legal disputes.
A skilled Virginia trusts and estates attorney can advise and guide family members about probate, including filing the appropriate legal forms, collection of assets, preparation of tax returns, advice on post-death planning, distribution of assets, and funding of trusts and trust administration.
Not all estates are subject to probate. For example, under Virginia law, when the assets of an estate are worth $50,000 or less, probate is not necessary and streamlined proceedings apply.
Even for larger estates, certain types of assets can pass without probate. Examples of these include:
- Joint tenancies with right of survivorship – many homes pass to a surviving spouse in this way
- Beneficiary designations such as life insurance policies accounts
- Payable on death accounts such as bank or brokerage accounts
- Assets held in a living trust
Anyone interested in simplifying the probate process could benefit from the experienced guidance of a trusts and estates lawyer. This could involve estate planning for individuals who want to prepare for the future. For anyone who has recently had a loved one pass away, a lawyer could help them understand the process for settling the estate and assist with complying with applicable legal procedures.
Virginia Probate Procedures
When someone passes away, the general process to settle the estate has several steps. To initiate probate proceedings, the executor (if named in the will) or another person needs to file the original will (if any), a certified copy of the death certificate, an estimate of the value of the estate, and a List of Heirs, which is an official court form.
The Personal Representative
The court will then appoint a personal representative for the estate. When there is a will, this is generally the person named as executor. When there is no will, the representative can be anyone who inherits from the deceased person. The personal representative has legal authority over the decedent’s assets but has the duty to preserve and distribute them in accordance with the law.
The next steps are for the administrator to inventory the estate’s assets and provide notice to all heirs (that is, all people who would inherit under Virginia law when there is no will) as well as to all beneficiaries named in the will. These individuals have the right to copies of the estate’s inventory and other probate documents and can make an appearance in court if they dispute the will or the administration of the estate.
Paying Debts and Distributing Assets
The personal representative then has the duty to pay taxes and creditors of the estate. When there are insufficient assets to pay all debts, Virginia law establishes priorities for payments.
After all debts are paid, the personal representative is responsible for distributing the remaining assets. When there is a will, this is done according to the will’s instructions. When there is no will, Virginia law sets out who inherits and how much.
Closing the Estate
Once the representative discharges their duties, the court will close the estate. At this point, all potential heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors will have had their opportunity to make claims involving the estate. When the court closes the estate, it relieves the personal representative of their duties.
The representative is entitled to compensation for their services. This is based on the size and complexity of the estate. Although these fees have priority over most other claims against the estate, many representatives decline to take fees since they are subject to income taxes, but inheritances are not.
How a Lawyer Can Help with Probate and Estate Administration
Trusts and estates lawyers regular assist individuals with the administration of estates. This can range from helping to assemble and file the appropriate paperwork to representing individual heirs and beneficiaries and advocating for their legal rights.
Resolving Trusts and Estates Disputes
When wealth passes through wills and trusts, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. This often results in emotional and expensive disputes regarding the administration of an estate, the distribution of assets, or the discharge of the terms of a trust. This can involve suing over the terms of a will, defending against claims from dissatisfied beneficiaries or family members, or other actions that may arise.
An experienced trusts and estates lawyer could provide needed guidance and advocacy to help resolve problems relating to wills, guardianships, and other matters. While a lawyer may advise pursuing litigation over a dispute in court, they may also explore other means of achieving a client’s goals.
Planning for the Future with Advance Medical Directives
Many people wish to plan ahead for health care decisions when they approach the end of life or are unable to speak for themselves. Under Virginia law, all adults have the right to put their wishes regarding medical care into writing through a legally binding document known as an “Advance Directive.”An Advance Directive lets others know what types of medical treatment an individual does or does not wish to receive in the event that they become incapacitated.
There are two types of Advance Directives. The broader of these, sometimes called a Healthcare Power of Attorney, formally appoints another person as an agent to make healthcare decisions for someone when they are unable to make those decisions for themselves.
The second type of directive, called Written Healthcare Directive, contains instructions regarding what types of healthcare someone does or does not wish to receive if they are determined not to have the ability to express their own wishes. This type of directive is sometimes also called a “Living Will.”
Reasons to Seek Professional Help Regarding Trusts and Estates in Virginia
Creating a will, trust, power of attorney, or other planning instrument provides people with the chance to ensure their legacy lives on and that they have provided and cared for their loved ones or others. Although properly preparing an estate plan often requires legal help, it does not have to be complicated.
When initially meeting with people, attorneys may request people bring important documents with them. This could include real estate deeds, current and prior wills, insurance policies, prenuptial agreements, and others. Every client is unique, with differing individual needs, family dynamics, interests, goals, and financial holdings. With proper legal assistance, they can craft a legal solution specifically tailored to address their preferences and circumstances.
Contact a Virginia Trusts and Estates Lawyer
A Virginia trusts and estate lawyer represents individuals planning ahead for their future, as well as providing representation to beneficiaries of trusts and people who need assistance after the death of a loved one.
When you hire a trusts and estates attorney, their goal will be to assist you in achieving your personal goals while advising you about tax savings and other benefits that may be available through proper estate planning. An experienced lawyer can also help with other significant life events, such as caring for loved ones when they become unable to help themselves, advising you about your rights when a loved one or business partner passes away, and other matters. Call today for more information about getting personal guidance from an experienced Virginia trusts and estates attorney.
2019 National Wine Day 5k & 10k
Attorney Kerri Castellini is excited to sponsor this year’s National Wine Day 5k & 10k. This race benefits the EOD Warrior Foundation which supports wounded military EOD technicians. Come join us May 25, 2019 for a fun run, great scenery, and delicious wine for a great cause. For more information on this event, visit our 2019 National Wine Day 5k & 10k page.