Emily, a young and vibrant 30-year-old with a thriving career and an active social life, never gave much thought to estate planning. That is, until her best friend Juliet’s brother unexpectedly passed away without a will or an estate plan, leaving his family at the mercy of Virginia estate law. State law dictated how his assets would be divided among his beneficiaries, which may or may not have aligned with his wishes. Watching her friend’s family argue over money and other personal matters while grieving their loss caused Emily to reconsider the idea of estate planning.
Unfortunately, dying without a will is common in the United States. According to a CNBC survey, 67% of Americans have no estate plan. Although the COVID-19 pandemic alerted people to the importance of having a will, only about 33% of Americans have an estate plan. The article reveals that the most significant reason for this is that they just haven’t taken the time to do it, as reported by 40% of respondents. However, the reasons given by the remaining 60% demonstrate the prevalence of many misconceptions Americans have about estate planning.
This blog, from a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney, debunks the five most common estate planning myths. Continue reading to discover more, then contact our seasoned team of lawyers for estates and wills at (703) 865-6100 for personalized service and attention. During the interview process, we’ll get to know you so we can collaborate and prepare a comprehensive plan that addresses your concerns and protects you and your loved ones.
Myth #1: Estate Planning is Only for the Wealthy/I Don’t Have Enough Assets
Contrary to this myth, everyone, regardless of income or net worth, can benefit from estate planning. Working with the right estate planning attorney, you can ensure the proper distribution of your belongings—regardless of their value—by designating beneficiaries. An estate plan also ensures that your financial and healthcare wishes will be respected if you become unable to make decisions. Legally valid estate planning documents allow your preferred guardian to take responsibility for your minor children, rather than someone appointed by the court, in the unfortunate event of your passing.
Myth #2: Young People Don’t Need Estate Planning
Like Emily, many young people believe that estate planning is only for middle-aged or older people, but nothing could be further from the truth. As her friend Juliet’s story illustrates, unexpected events can happen at all ages. A legally sound estate plan carries out your intentions if tragedy strikes and you pass away at an early age.
Myth #3: A Will Takes Care of All Assets
While vitally important, a will alone does not constitute a comprehensive estate plan because it doesn’t cover all of your assets. Specific assets, such as life insurance or retirement accounts, bypass the will and pass directly to named beneficiaries.
Myth #4: Estate Planning Focuses Solely on What Happens After Your Death
Estate planning goes beyond what happens after your death to address situations where you cannot make decisions for yourself due to incapacitation. With components like a Power of Attorney (POA) and an Advance Medical Directive, you can designate a trusted individual to act on your behalf for financial and medical matters.
Myth #5: Estate Planning is a One-Time Process
Updating your estate plan is crucial to it reflecting your current circumstances. Changes in your life, like marriage, divorce, or the arrival of a new baby, may necessitate revisions. Regularly review your plan so it aligns with your specific needs and circumstances.
What are the Components of a Robust Virginia Estate Plan?
Now that we’ve debunked the most common myths about estate planning, let’s delve into an estate plan’s crucial components. As experienced estate planning attorneys can attest, the estate planning process involves much more than managing your finances, and each individual must tailor their estate plan to their unique preferences.
A will is a foundational document in the estate planning process. It empowers you to determine the distribution of your property, appoint a guardian for your children, and support a charitable cause after your passing.
Unlike a living will, which takes effect if you become unable to make decisions, your last will and testament only becomes valid after your death.
For a will to meet legal standards, it must adhere to the following:
- The individual creating the will (known as the testator) must be at least 18 years old.
- The will must be in written form; oral wills are not recognized by the law.
- The testator must sign the document.
- The testator must be mentally capable and must create the will willingly and without coercion.
- Two witnesses must also sign the document, attesting to its authenticity.
The well-being of your minor children is paramount. You can retain control of their future by designating a guardian for them in your will. In the unfortunate event of both parents passing away while your child is under 18, the court will examine your will for guidance, rather than making an independent choice on guardianship.
To further safeguard your children’s future, select one or two additional backup guardians. These individuals should have the ability to care for them until they reach adulthood. Consider guardians who will raise your children according to your values.
Contrary to a persistent misconception, you do not have to be wealthy to benefit from a trust. Trusts can minimize your tax obligations, sidestep probate complexities, and allocate property according to your directives. Furthermore, trusts can provide ongoing care for disabled loved ones and cherished pets long after you’re gone.
Trust Options Include:
- Revocable living trusts: Maintain control over your assets while alive, with the flexibility to make changes as needed.
- Irrevocable trusts: Securely protect your assets and minimize tax obligations with this permanent trust option.
- Special needs trusts: Safeguard the financial future of loved ones with special needs, ensuring their care and well-being.
- Qualified terminable interest property trusts: Ensure the efficient transfer of assets to your spouse while maintaining control over their ultimate distribution.
- Testamentary trusts: Preserve and direct the distribution of assets according to your wishes after your passing.
- Charitable trusts: Leave a lasting impact by supporting causes close to your heart while potentially enjoying tax benefits.
- Pet trusts: Provide for the continued care and well-being of your beloved pets even after you’re gone.
- Spendthrift trusts: Safeguard assets from extravagance or poor money management, ensuring a controlled distribution over time.
- Generation-skipping trusts: Efficiently pass assets to future generations while minimizing taxes, potentially creating a lasting legacy.
As many estate planning lawyers know from their meetings with clients, power of attorney is an often overlooked aspect of the estate planning process. With a power of attorney, you can safeguard yourself in the event of incapacitation. In such a scenario, the agent you select will seamlessly step in and manage your affairs, eliminating the need for court intervention. This saves families from the emotional burdens of seeking conservatorship or guardianship through the court and procures timely assistance.
Power of Attorney Options Include:
- Durable power of attorney
- General power of attorney
- Limited power of attorney
- Springing power of attorney
Take control of your future with an Advance Medical Directive, a simple legal tool that allows you to designate someone you trust to make medical decisions for you. With a clear and concise directive, there will be no room for misinterpretation.
An Advance Medical Directive allows you to:
- Name a healthcare agent
- Designate decision-making powers to that agent
- Provide healthcare instructions
- Donate organs or tissues to other people or research institutions
Should I Hire a Virginia Estate Planning Attorney?
While you might be tempted not to hire an estate planning attorney and DIY your estate planning documents with the help of the internet, it’s a risky proposition. Many internet forms are insufficient, may not account for complex situations, and do not comply with Virginia laws. When considering the well-being of your family and other loved ones, the attorney’s fees for estate counsel are a worthy investment. Whether you have an existing plan or seek to create a new one, a knowledgeable and experienced estate attorney in Virginia can listen to your specific needs and preferences and guide you through the legal process.
PJI Law, PLC: Your Trusted Estate Planning Attorneys in Fairfax, Virginia
Have you been typing “lawyers for estate planning” or “estate planning lawyers near me” into your search bar? We understand your desire to find an estate planning attorney you can trust with your legal needs and documents to ensure a stable future for you and your loved ones.
At PJI Law, we’re committed to providing personal attention and premium service to our valued clients. To discuss the estate planning process and how we can tailor your plan to fulfill your intended purpose, we invite you to 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.