A 2022 survey found that while over 50% of Americans believe estate planning is valuable, only about 33% have a plan in place. Between juggling the hustle and bustle associated with every day, it is understandable that this task might get away from you. It is a sensitive topic, as the legal issues related to death are never easy to discuss.
However, having a documented plan helps your wishes be honored and can save your loved ones the time, money, and stress of going to court. Consulting with an experienced Virginia estate planning and administration attorney can help see your estate administration affairs are in order.
Let the knowledgeable Virginia estate planning lawyers at Montagna Law help guide you through the steps to protect your assets so you can have peace of mind. Call our law firm today at (757) 622-8100 to schedule a consultation to discuss your financial affairs.
Once people get over the fear or anxiety of getting started on an estate plan, they realize the numerous benefits of having one in place. Your family members benefit from spending less time and money in probate court because you already have everything explicitly outlined. A plan also reduces the estate taxes any of your beneficiaries will owe from their inheritance. Other essential details a plan includes are end-of-life medical decisions, charitable donation wishes, and business succession.
Ideally, you should start thinking about making an estate plan once you are an adult, at 18 years old. Most people do not do this, so today is the second best time to start. It is better to create an estate plan at 45, 50, or even 60 than not have one.
Making a plan helps you to exercise control over your life, not just about your property and assets, but about important decisions. So, even if you do not have many assets, an illness, injury, or other unexpected events can happen. Your documents will help your executor to carry out your wishes.
Once your estate plan is in place, consider it a living, breathing document. That means you can and should update it throughout your life after you experience significant life changes, including marriage, having a child, acquiring property, or receiving an inheritance.
It is common for people to think estate planning is about a will or trust. Truthfully, it is much more. In Virginia, there are specific components that are involved with your planning. Working with an attorney will help you cover all your proverbial bases and outline everything precisely how you want it to be.
You are most likely at least passingly familiar with the concept of a last will and testament. For many, it sounds like a complicated task reserved for wealthy individuals, but that is a misconception. Everyone should have a will or trust established, even if they are not rich.
What a will does is outline how your executor distributes your assets (real estate, cash, insurance policies, etc.) to the beneficiaries you have chosen. Working with a knowledgeable attorney can help you construct your legal documents according to Virginia law.
A durable power of attorney (POA) is critical because the individual (“agent”) you select will act on your behalf for important decisions you might not be able to make yourself. Choosing someone you trust as your power of attorney offers reassurance that they will decide according to your wishes. Without a POA, the court may have to determine what happens to your assets if you cannot express your preferences.
The POA empowers your agent to make real estate transactions, financial transactions, and other legal decisions. In some cases, two spouses establish reciprocal powers of attorney, but in other instances, people choose a family member, trusted friend, or another trusted individual.
Everyone should establish an advanced medical directive and medical power of attorney. The advanced medical directive is often referred to as a “living will” and is the component of your estate plan that, if you cannot express your own choices, stipulates what types of medical care you do or do not want. These decisions include medical interventions such as mechanical respiration, tube feeding, and resuscitation.
A medical power of attorney in Virginia also serves an essential purpose. This document designates an individual you choose to make important healthcare decisions if you cannot do so yourself. This person will act as your agent if or when you cannot express your wishes.
In Virginia, guardianship is often outlined in a will, but not always. You should be explicit about the guardianship of your minor children, so they are cared for as you want. If something happens to you, you may have a specific relative or guardian in mind to take care of your children.
Without a legal document, the court may decide to place your children with a family member, not of your choosing, or, in some cases, place them into the custody of the Commonwealth. If you have a special needs child, they may not get the care or services they need if you do not carefully outline your wishes.
Every account, including life insurance plans, pensions, and 401(k), should designate one or more beneficiaries. This way, the individuals you choose will receive your assets or benefits. You also want to add contingent beneficiaries, just in case. If no beneficiaries are designated, a Virginia court will likely determine the fate of your assets.
If you die in Virginia without a will, Virginia intestate law determines the distribution of your assets. Your estate must go through the probate process, which can be complex and take time. In the Commonwealth, if you die and have a spouse, they will get your assets. If you also have children, one-third of the assets go to your spouse and two-thirds to your children. The assets go to your parents if there is no spouse or children. If there are no relatives, other laws will apply as determined by the court. It is best to protect your wishes by taking care of this proactively.
The estate planning process is not just for wealthy people. Everyone can benefit. Planning for your estate ensures everything you want takes place, avoiding probate court. Montagna Law is here to help provide sound legal advice. Our attorneys will work closely with you to draw up your estate planning documents according to your wishes and in compliance with state law.
To obtain a consultation, call our Hampton Roads law office at 757-622-8100 or use our online contact form. Our Virginia estate planning attorneys proudly serve the entire Hampton Roads area, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk.
Jon Montagna received a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from American University in Washington D.C. and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1999. Jon practices law in the Hampton Roads Virginia area.