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Estate Planning and Administration FAQs

Below is a partial list of the most common documents we prepare for estate planning purposes:

Wills

Wills are primary estate planning tools. A will is often necessary to ensure proper distribution of your property. Without a will, the intestacy laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia often determine the distribution of your property, which may or may not be in the manner you would have intended. Let our attorneys lend their knowledge of Prince William, Stafford and Fairfax Counties to provide for your financial security. We can draft a will that holds up without question when the time comes. Our advanced degrees in taxation also enable us to anticipate financial consequences and likely outcomes. Financial security for your loved ones is our primary concern.

Trusts

In a Trust, you transfer property to another person or entity, known as the trustee, who now will legally own that property. You can decide to transfer your property now as part of a Living Trust or you can establish a trust through your will that will take effect when you die. A trustee can be either an individual or an institution, such as a bank—and you can serve as your own trustee in many instances. Trusts represent a giant jigsaw puzzle entirely on their own, because there are several different kinds of trusts. Read more about common misconceptions regarding trusts in our FAQ tab. Our attorneys can review the options with you and advise you on the trust that makes the most sense for you and your assets.

Durable Powers of Attorney

Durable Powers of Attorney are the traditional documents for incapacity planning. Simply, these are contracts in which the principal appoints an agent to undertake the actions specified in the document. The primary purpose of creating a durable power of attorney is to enable the agent to act on your behalf when you cannot act for yourself. These documents are deceptively complex and can create many unintended results if not drafted and executed properly.

Advance Medical Directives

An Advance Medical Directive, which in Virginia is the combination of both a living will and a health care power of attorney, is necessary when you are no longer able to make medical decisions on your own. This legal document allows you to indicate which medical procedures—such as cardiac resuscitation, respirator and feeding tubes—you want to be used, withheld, or discontinued when you are unable to give your own oral direction.

While we do not expect to make each of our clients an expert in the field, we are able to impart the practical background and general guidelines that are essential to an understanding of the impact of taxes on an estate. Our estate planning is based on meeting the objectives of our clients while still trying to minimize or avoid taxes to the greatest extent possible under each client’s particular circumstances.

We explain to each client the general aspects of the transfer tax structure, including such components as:

  • the tax rates
  • the marital deduction
  • the exemption equivalent of the unified credit
  • the portability of the exemption equivalent to a surviving spouse; and
  • the annual donee exclusion.

When appropriate, we also apply more specialized vehicles such as life insurance trusts, limited liability companies, trusts for minors and bypass trusts. A client’s assets are analyzed in light of these transfer tax considerations to pinpoint various planning opportunities.

The most important element of estate planning is to ensure our client’s goals and interests ultimately are carried out. We are well aware that tax and administrative considerations often conflict with the desires of the client concerning the disposition of property. A client’s comfort level is the key factor to ensure that these tax and administrative considerations do not override the more important need to carry out the client’s wishes.

We discuss in detail with each client how he or she would like to dispose of property. Should it pass outright to a spouse? Should it be retained in trust for a spouse or other heir? Are there special needs of any child? Are any children handicapped? What are the financial capabilities of the family members? When should property be distributed to children or grandchildren? Who should be guardians of any minor children? Who should be the trustees of any trust arrangements created for heirs? Who should be the executors?

Only after working with our clients to answer these and other questions can we blend them together with the gift, estate and income tax solutions that also may affect a client’s estate. Our most important service to a client is to ensure his or her interests and goals are furthered, and not hindered, by the estate plan we recommend.

We are glad to show you how to keep our firm’s fees to a minimum in estate administration matters provided that personal representatives and family members are willing and able to do as much of the work as possible. We are pleased to provide instruction, supervision and review of such “do-it-yourself” efforts.

We employ dedicated and experienced paralegal staff to assist in preparing most of the probate documents. We bill their time at less than half the rate of our attorneys and delegate as much of the probate work to them as is appropriate. If you want us to assume most or all of the burden of the probate filing requirements, we are willing and able to do so and are at your disposal. If you want us to coordinate with other professional advisors to share the duties, we are comfortable with such teamwork arrangements as well. If a federal estate tax return is required to be filed, we generally undertake that responsibility; however, we cooperate with outside accountants of your choice (including those that we may recommend to you if asked) to prepare all final income tax returns, as well as all estate and trust fiduciary income tax returns.

Wills and Probate FAQs

A will is a legal document that specifies how your assets will be distributed when you die. If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed according to Virginia law. Unlike those with valid wills in Virginia, when you are without a legal will, you are allowing the state to distribute your property in a manner that may or may not match your wishes. You are also inviting potential discord among your heirs, because the court can determine the percentage of your overall estate that goes to each recipient but not the disposition of individual items.

If you want to control what happens with your estate, for example, to protect minor children, you need an attorney who is experienced with Virginia legal wills. Having a well-drafted will is an important part of the complete estate planning services offered by Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia.

Living wills are legal documents that state explicitly what type of medical procedures you wish to have employed to prolong your life in the event that you become so ill that you are unable to communicate your wishes. Living wills are also known as physician directives, advance directives, or health care directives.

This legal document allows you to indicate which medical procedures—such as cardiac resuscitation and/or respirator and feeding tubes—you want to be used, withheld, or discontinued when you are unable to give your own oral direction. Our estate planning attorneys will make sure that you retain control of your health care and life-prolonging treatments with the family members you designate. We know that you want legal assurance that the medical community will consider your quality of life, not just its length.

The most important element of estate planning is to ensure our client’s goals and interests ultimately are carried out. We are well aware that tax and administrative considerations often conflict with the desires of the client concerning the disposition of property. A client’s comfort level is the key factor to ensure that these tax and administrative considerations do not override the more important need to carry out the client’s wishes.

We discuss in detail with each client how he or she would like to dispose of property. Should it pass outright to a spouse? Should it be retained in trust for a spouse or other heir? Are there special needs of any child? Are any children handicapped? What are the financial capabilities of the family members? When should property be distributed to children or grandchildren? Who should be guardians of any minor children? Who should be the trustees of any trust arrangements created for heirs? Who should be the executors?

Only after working with our clients to answer these and other questions can we blend them together with the gift, estate and income tax solutions that also may affect a client’s estate. Our most important service to a client is to ensure his or her interests and goals are furthered, and not hindered, by the estate plan we recommend.

Because will litigation is complex, it is important to discuss your issues with lawyers who know exactly what is required to contest a will in Prince William County. At Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia, we will explain to you that you cannot legally dispute a will simply because you are upset with the share of the assets you received. To successfully contest a will, it is necessary to prove the following:

  • It was improperly executed, such as being unsigned or other procedural flaw
  • There is a clear mistake, such as assigning the distribution of three halves or five quarters
  • The testator (the person whose will it is) lacked the mental capacity to understand what was actually being put in the will
  • The testator was mentally ill or suffered from an insane delusion
  • The will was made under undue influence or duress, such as by a caregiver who threatened to withhold food if the will was not changed
  • The will is the result of fraud, such as when the son of the testator substituted a counterfeit will

When someone dies, the property and possessions owned by that person are distributed to surviving relatives or other parties in a legal process known as probate. How probate proceeds is based on whether the deceased, known as the decedent, had a will or not.

Whether you are drafting a will or are just concerned that your rights be protected in a Virginia probate court, it is important to engage an established Virginia probate lawyer. Our local attorneys are well versed in the finer points of probating a will and can help clients navigate what is often a puzzling process.

Depending on the size of the estate and the individual circumstances, probating a will can be very complex. There are often many pieces of a puzzle that must come together during the probate process. Local factors and legal professionals come into play as the debts and taxes of a decedent are paid and the assets are distributed. An Executor or Executrix who has been charged with overseeing this process by the decedent often finds it comforting to rely on a skilled Virginia probate attorney.

 

The probate process can become even more complex if the decedent did not leave a will. In this case, you may need a lawyer to help you become the administrator of the estate, whom the court appoints when no executor has been named by the decedent. An Administrator is a qualified person appointed by the court when no executor or executrix has been named by the decedent. Whether you are the administrator, executor, or simply someone who has a financial or emotional interest that you want to protect, the lawyers at Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia have the in-depth knowledge you need.

In any discussion of probate law or probating a will it is important to understand the role of the executor and/or executrix. The appointed administrator is charged with fitting together all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that come into play when the possessions and property of the deceased need to be distributed.

The executor/executrix of the decedent’s will or the appointed administrator is responsible for the following actions:

  • Taking a complete inventory of all assets subject to probate and getting them appraised
  • Paying all outstanding bills and taxes
  • Paying funeral and burial costs
  • Managing the appraisal process and paying all legal and professional service expenses
  • Overseeing the transfer of property as stipulated by the will or by the laws of intestate succession when no will exists

As skilled Virginia probate lawyers, our attorneys understand how to make these tasks go as smoothly as possible. They also know how to ensure that you receive everything to which you are entitled.

Depending on the size of the estate and the individual circumstances, probating a will can be very complex. There are often many pieces of a puzzle that must come together during the probate process. Local factors and legal professionals come into play as the debts and taxes of a decedent are paid and the assets are distributed. An Executor or Executrix who has been charged with overseeing this process by the decedent often finds it comforting to rely on a skilled Virginia probate attorney.

 

The probate process can become even more complex if the decedent did not leave a will. In this case, you may need a lawyer to help you become the administrator of the estate, whom the court appoints when no executor has been named by the decedent. An Administrator is a qualified person appointed by the court when no executor or executrix has been named by the decedent. Whether you are the administrator, executor, or simply someone who has a financial or emotional interest that you want to protect, the lawyers at Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia have the in-depth knowledge you need.

A will is one of four primary corners of the estate planning jigsaw puzzle. Many people misunderstand the goal and use of this essential estate planning tool. Our goal is to clarify this often perplexing tool.

Misconception 1: I can just download a will from a website, fill in the blanks, and be done with it. While there are certain websites that offer do-it-yourself versions of wills, there is more to crafting a legally valid will than meets the eye. An experienced wills lawyer knows exactly which questions to ask you and how to reflect your answers so your will can stand up in Virginia’s courts. The last thing you want is to have your heirs bickering over your intentions.

Misconception 2: All I have to do is decide who gets my money and my property. As an estate planning tool, a will can be used to not only direct the distribution of your estate’s assets, including money and property, but also to articulate the care of your children and the person you designate to administer your estate. Additionally, you can use a will to establish any number of trusts. These are complicated decisions and ones that are best made with the guidance of an experienced wills lawyer in Virginia.

 

Misconception 3: I don’t need a will. My estate will just pass to my spouse. There is no reason to leave the distribution of your estate to chance. If you die without a will, the Virginia statutes dictate the distribution of your property and assets, usually to your spouse and/or children. But perhaps you intend to give more to one child than another. Or maybe you would like to leave some assets to your siblings, nieces or nephews, or even grandchildren. A well-crafted will ensures your intentions are followed upon your death.

Misconception 4: My estate is not large enough to warrant a will. Many people believe they do not have sufficient wealth to warrant a will. However, a will can help you effectively plan for your future regardless of the value of your estate. Your will legally articulates the care of your children, distribution of any assets, the timing of that distribution, and who is in charge of the administrative process. For instance, you may want your children’s share of your estate to be managed for them instead of paid in one lump sum. Let us show you how a will can work best for you and your family.

We want to help take the puzzle out of probate for you. Probate is the legal process of administering an estate after someone dies. Because it is a complicated maze, many misconceptions arise. We want to dispel these misconceptions and present the truth.

  • Misconception 1: A will is valid once it is on paper, signed, and witnessed. The purpose of probate is to prove in court that a decedent’s will is legally valid. The probate process also identifies and inventories the decedent’s property, directs property appraisal, and supervises the proper payment of debts and taxes; then supervises the distribution of property according to the will and the transfer of title and ownership of the decedent’s assets to designated beneficiaries.
  • Misconception 2: I have to probate my own will. An estate executor has the responsibility to probate a decedent’s will. Your estate’s executor must take your will through the probate process at the appropriate Virginia Circuit Court. If you work with experienced probate attorneys in Virginia to craft your will, the probate process likely will proceed more smoothly for your executor and your beneficiaries.
  • Misconception 3: There is no way around probate. Probate can be an estate administration maze, but there are ways (such as through the creation of certain types of trusts) to avoid it during the estate planning process, usually with tax purposes in mind. However, know that trusts can be thorny, too, and can result in controversy and liability if not undertaken and crafted properly. Contact us to discuss what planning tools are best for you and your family with one of our knowledgeable probate attorneys.
  • Misconception 4: I don’t need a lawyer to probate a will. When you are grieving the loss of your loved one, a probate attorney can guide you through the estate administration maze. This is a time when proper and knowledgeable legal help can be most gratifying.
  • Misconception 5: As a trustee, I don’t need a lawyer. As a trustee, you have certain fiduciary responsibilities. If they are not carried out properly, you could face personal liability and a court battle. Let our law firm, experienced with trustee matters, including serving as a trustee, help you steer clear of controversy.

Trusts represent one of four primary documents that anchor the estate planning jigsaw puzzle. However, several misconceptions are prevalent concerning trusts. At Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia, we aim to solve the puzzle. Therefore, we want to dispel common misunderstandings about these effective estate planning tools.

  • Misconception 1: Trusts get established only after death. You can set up a living trust to take effect while you are alive. You can even serve as your own trustee. A living trust offers certain estate administration and tax advantages. Let one of the estate planning attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C. help you determine how a living trust can work best for you.
  • Misconception 2: My estate is not large enough to warrant a trust. The size of one’s estate does not limit or prohibit the establishment of a trust. For example, you may have a disabled child. In your will, you have the ability to create a special needs trust to ensure your child’s continued care. You can even set up a trust to care for your pet. There are several types of trusts and one of our qualified lawyers can help determine how and what trusts can be effective planning tools for you and your family.
  • Misconception 3: You have to name a bank or an institution as a trustee. You can name virtually anyone you want to serve as your trustee. If you have a living trust, you can even name yourself. However, you may choose to name a bank, an attorney, or another institution or individual with experience to direct financial affairs. Let one of our estate planning lawyers help you find and name the right trustee for your situation.
  • Misconception 4: If I set up a living trust in one state and later move to another state, I have to set the trust up again. A living trust is considered a contract and is given full faith and credit from state to state. However, you may want to have a qualified estate planning attorney review your trust in your new state to determine whether it may be necessary or appropriate to amend the trust to conform to that state’s laws.