Whether you’re in your 30s or advancing into your senior years, planning for the future is essential. Estate planning is more than just deciding where your assets go after you’re gone; it’s about ensuring your loved ones are cared for and preventing potential disputes.
A critical component of this planning is creating a will—a legal document that articulates your final wishes. However, having a will is not enough; you need to avoid certain mistakes that can compromise your wishes.
In this blog post, we’ll share the five biggest mistakes people make with their wills in Virginia and how to avoid them. We’ll also share other estate planning documents you may want to add to your estate plan.
If you’d like to create a will or have us review an existing one, contact us at (703) 865-6100 to schedule a consultation with a Virginia estate planning attorney. At PJI Law, you’ll receive personalized service and attention.
The Importance of Wills
A will is more than just a legal document; it’s a reflection of your wishes and intentions for your assets and loved ones after you’re gone. By creating a will, you retain control over how your assets are distributed, rather than leaving such decisions to state laws.
It serves as a clear roadmap, reducing potential conflicts among heirs and ensuring your legacy is preserved as you envisioned.
Additionally, for those with minor children, a will is the designated space to appoint a trusted guardian, ensuring they are cared for in the manner you deem best. Given its pivotal role in estate planning, it’s paramount to ensure you avoid the five biggest mistakes people make with their wills.
Mistake 1: Not Seeking Legal Help
Many people make the mistake of trying to draft their will without professional help. While a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) will might save money in the short term, it can lead to costly legal battles in the future.
For example, Virginia has specific requirements for a will to be valid, such as being in writing, being signed in the presence of two competent witnesses, and being signed by the testator.
A surprising number of people either aren’t aware of these stipulations or overlook them, leading to wills being contested or deemed invalid. It’s crucial to seek help from lawyers for wills when drafting your will to avoid any potential legal issues.
Mistake 2: Ignoring the Need for Regular Updates
Your will isn’t a static document; it’s a reflection of your life’s ever-changing circumstances. Major life events, such as marriages, divorces, the birth of children or grandchildren, the passing of loved ones, or substantial shifts in your financial situation, all necessitate a re-evaluation and potential revision of your will.
Additionally, changes in state or federal laws might impact provisions within your will or the distribution of your assets. Neglecting to periodically review and update your will can result in a document that no longer aligns with your intentions or the well-being of your heirs.
An outdated will can cause confusion, lead to disputes among beneficiaries, and might even be contested in court. It’s imperative to ensure your will is an accurate representation of your current wishes and circumstances, reducing potential legal complications and family strife in the future.
Mistake 3: Overlooking Potential Estate Tax
While Virginia no longer has an estate tax, the federal government does. Many individuals mistakenly believe they won’t be affected by estate taxes or fail to understand the thresholds and exemptions.
As estates grow in value, especially with rising property prices and investment growth, more individuals may find their estates approaching or surpassing the federal exemption limit. By not planning for these taxes, beneficiaries could face unexpected and significant tax bills, which might necessitate the sale of assets or properties to cover the tax liability.
Proper estate planning with an informed attorney can help mitigate these potential federal estate tax burdens, ensuring that beneficiaries receive the maximum benefit of the inheritance.
Mistake 4: Not Properly Planning for Minor Children
Having minor children adds an essential layer of complexity to estate planning. One of the most critical decisions parents must make is designating a trustworthy guardian in their will. This individual or couple will assume responsibility for your children’s well-being if you’re no longer there to care for them.
Overlooking this crucial step can result in a court deciding who will raise your children, potentially leading to contentious legal battles among family members and causing unnecessary emotional distress for the children.
Beyond guardianship, it’s equally vital to think about your children’s financial future. Setting up a trust is a proactive way to manage and protect assets intended for your children until they reach an age or milestone you’ve determined appropriate for inheritance.
A well-structured trust can provide for their education, healthcare, and other essential needs in your absence, ensuring they are well taken care of, both physically and financially.
By thoroughly addressing the needs of minor children in your will, you’ll offer them a shield of protection, comfort, and stability in an uncertain world.
Mistake 5: Failure to Clearly Identify Beneficiaries and Appoint an Executor
When creating a will, two critical decisions involve naming your beneficiaries and appointing an executor. Clearly identifying your beneficiaries means specifying who will receive particular assets, which prevents confusion or disputes later on. General terms or ambiguous descriptions can lead to potential conflicts among loved ones.
The role of the executor is equally crucial. This person will manage your estate’s affairs after your passing, ensuring debts are settled and assets are distributed as per your will’s instructions. If you don’t appoint an executor, the court will assign someone, which might not align with your preferred choice and could complicate the estate administration process.
To safeguard the smooth execution of your will, always be clear in your designations and give due thought to your executor’s appointment.
Additional Estate Planning Documents to Consider
While a will is certainly a critical part of your estate plan, there are several other documents you should consider signing when you make your will. Each provides additional layers of security and peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
- Trusts*: Safeguard assets with mechanisms like the revocable living trust, allowing you to control assets during your life and ensure smooth transfers after death. For families with minor children, consider a testamentary trust to manage your children’s inheritances responsibly.
- Durable Power of Attorney: Appoint someone to handle your finances if you can’t.
- Advance Medical Directive: Choose a representative for your healthcare decisions if incapacitated.
- Transfer-on-Death Deed: Bypass probate by letting a beneficiary directly inherit your home after you pass.
*For more information about trusts, we invite you to read our blog, “Understanding the Different Types of Trusts in Virginia.”
By avoiding these five biggest will mistakes and setting up additional estate documents tailored to your unique circumstances, you’re taking a proactive step to secure your future and ease concerns for both yourself and your loved ones.
Safeguard Your Legacy: Comprehensive Wills and Estate Planning in Virginia
Creating a precise and effective will is paramount to ensuring your wishes are carried out as intended when you pass. As you search online for “local lawyers for wills,” trust the experienced estate planning attorney team at PJI Law to guide you every step of the way.
At PJI Law, our clients are our top priority, and we’re committed to providing personal attention and premium service.
If you want to create or update a will that accurately reflects your wishes and benefits your specific circumstances, contact us at (703) 865-6100 or complete our online form to schedule a consultation in Fairfax, Virginia.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.