You probably already know that if you own any assets—and especially if you have minor children or other dependents—you should have a will. But a will is only one part of an estate plan. Getting all the other pieces together can seem overwhelming. But with a little know-how and understanding of how estate laws work in your state, you can take on the task with confidence. Those making estate plans in Virginia should keep these guidelines in mind.
Start with a will
Your will details your wishes for what you would like to happen to your property after your death. It is the legally binding document in which you name heirs, choose an executor for your estate and outline your preferences for how you would like your property divided. It may also include provisions for the care of minor children or other dependents. Some people choose to leave money or make other donations to charities, as well.
Probate considerations in Virginia
Even if you have a will, your property may have to go through probate, the legal process through which an estate is settled and assets transferred to heirs. Probate can costly and confusing—and it can often take a long time to resolve. So, many people take steps to avoid it, such as:
- Securing assets in a living trust
- Ensuring property that is jointly owned includes survivorship rights
- Employing payment-on-death or transfer-on-death designations for accounts, deeds, titles and vehicle registrations
Virginia also offers a simplified probate process for small estates.
Financial power of attorney
While planning for your finances after your death is a primary goal of estate planning, you should also consider designating an agent to act on your behalf in financial matters in the event that you are unable to yourself. Financial power of attorney allows you to do just that. You can set limits on what specifically your agent can do and under what circumstances he or she is authorized to act on your behalf.
Medical directives and end-of-life care
Would you want be kept alive on a ventilator? How would you feel about a feeding tube? End-of-life care is a sensitive matter, and many people have strong feelings about life support. To spare your loved ones the burden of having to guess what you would prefer, it is wise to draft a living will or advance medical directive. You also can grant medical power of attorney to a trusted friend or family member—but be sure to discuss with him or her how you feel about such matters. The state of Virginia maintains a secure and confidential database for these forms, so they are easily accessible in times of need.
Of course, a comprehensive estate plan often involves more than just a will and powers of attorney. Yours might also include:
- A secession plan for your business
- Life insurance
- Plans for pets you may leave behind
- Preferences or pre-arrangements for your funeral
There may be additional considerations as well, depending on your needs. No two estate plans are the same.
How a Virginia estate planning lawyer can help
Estate planning is a huge undertaking, but it does not have to be an overwhelming one. With the help of a Virginia estate planning lawyer, you can approach this task with confidence and rest assured that your will and other essential documents meet all federal and state legal requirements, so you can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing your estate plans are in good order.