How to Update Your Estate Plan After a Divorce

estate planning after divorce

Updating Your Estate Plans After a Divorce
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

The divorce process is often a very long and painful one. Although you may have already moved on emotionally, some legal aspects of your life can’t move forward until your divorce is finalized by the court.

When you do receive that long-awaited divorce decree, one of your first priorities should be updating your estate plans. If you didn’t enter into a settlement agreement or obtain a “divorce from bed and board” during your separation period, your spouse may still have been entitled to inherit as much as 50 percent of your estate if you die during that time. Once you’re no longer legally married, your ex cannot benefit from your estate unless you want them to.

One exception is retirement accounts and life insurance if governed by federal law. You must update your beneficiary designations to remove your ex’s name from them if you want to be certain they do not inherit from you (see more on this below).

Which estate planning documents should I update post-divorce?

Following your divorce, you’ll want to review all your essential estate planning documents to see where your spouse is named. Here are a few common items to address:

Your will. As mentioned above, an ex-spouse won’t inherit anything left to them in your pre-divorce will, nor will they be allowed to serve as your executor if you named them as such. But if you don’t appoint a new executor and beneficiaries for your estate, a probate court will decide that for you. To reduce time, frustration, and costs for your family, make sure your will gets a thorough revision after your divorce. It’s important to note that any bequests to an ex-spouse’s family members will still be valid, so considering changing those as well.

Trust arrangements. Unlike your will, spousal trust arrangements are not automatically voided upon divorce. If you named your spouse as a trustee or beneficiary in your revocable living trust, consult with an estate planning attorney to make the appropriate changes. Unfortunately, if your trust was irrevocable, you cannot change it to exclude your ex-spouse unless that trust contains administrative provisions at the time it was originally drafted that permit you to void the document if you and your ex ever divorce.  In addition,  if you never funded that irrevocable trust, then you could control what happens with it by simply choosing to create a new trust and never titling any assets into the old irrevocable trust created during your marriage.

Power of attorney agreements. In Virginia, a durable general power of attorney (for financial decisions) where a spouse is the agent is deemed invalid upon filing for divorce or separation. However, a durable medical power of attorney – which lets your agent make medical decisions for you if you’re incapacitated – still stands, even after a divorce. If your spouse is currently named as your POA agent, change these designations as soon as possible.  If you’re entering into a settlement agreement, make sure it contains provisions that revoke your spouse’s role under all powers of attorney executed by you during the marriage.

Legal guardianship designations. If you and your ex have minor children, you likely named a legal guardian together in your wills in the unlikely event you both died. While courts typically grant custody to a child’s other parent when one dies (unless they are deemed “unfit”), be sure that any other guardians named in your will are people you still feel comfortable with, such as an in-law.

Direct beneficiary accounts. Insurance policies, retirement plans, and other “payable on death” accounts have their own separate beneficiary paperwork. By law, certain policies will not pay out to an ex-spouse, but it’s still important to appoint new beneficiaries after your divorce to ensure your money goes where you want it to.

What if I want to keep my ex-spouse in my estate plan?

The Commonwealth of Virginia automatically negates any inheritance to an ex-spouse in wills written prior to a finalized divorce. However, there may be circumstances in which you still want your include your ex in your estate plan, particularly if you have minor children.

If you want to leave money or property to your ex-spouse specifically for the care for your children, the best way to do this is to create a revocable living trust. This allows you to title your property in the name of your trust and then appoint your ex as the trustee, who manages the assets on behalf of your children until they reach adulthood. If you don’t already have a trust, an attorney can help you create one.

If you have an amicable relationship with your now-ex and still want to leave property directly to them, all you have to do is write this into a valid post-divorce will.

Ask an estate planning attorney.

Even if you know exactly how you want to change your will, trust, power of attorney agreements, etc. post-divorce, you should still consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure your documents have the proper legal language and offer the maximum benefits for your loved ones.

Located in Northern Virginia, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. is experienced in both estate law and family law, so we are uniquely positioned to help with your estate planning needs after your divorce is final. Contact us today to get started.

Legal Separation in Virginia: What Does It Mean?

Legal Separation in Virginia

Legal Separation in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

The decision to end a marriage is emotionally painful and often very difficult for both spouses. But unlike an unmarried couple, you can’t simply move out and move on: You’ll need to go through the divorce process to officially dissolve your relationship in the eyes of the state.

For many couples, the first step on the road to divorce is separation, especially in no-fault cases. In some states, couples can file paperwork to officially claim the status of “legal separation,” in which they live apart and fulfill certain marital obligations prior to a divorce, as agreed to by a court order.

This is not the case in Virginia. Here, a married couple is considered “legally” separated if one or both members intend to end the marriage, and cease to cohabitate as a married couple.

What does that mean?

The first of the two main criteria for separation is simple: You and/or your spouse must believe the marriage is over and decide that you will seek a divorce. This decision may be made separately or mutually, and your husband or wife does not have to share your intention. However, a divorce court will not recognize the official start of your separation until you clearly communicate your desire to end the marriage to your spouse (more on that below).

The “cohabitation” requirement can be a little trickier if you still live in a shared residence – which many couples do at the time one or both of them decide the marriage is over. The easiest way to stop cohabitating as a married couple is for one spouse to move out, but that’s not always practical or financially possible, particularly if you have children together.

Fortunately, you can still be legally separated from your husband or wife while you’re under the same roof, but you must live and treat each other as platonic roommates. This means, first and foremost, that you cannot share a bed or room, nor can you act like a couple inside or outside the home. For example, you can’t shop, cook, or clean for each other, sleep together, go on one-on-one outings together, etc. Essentially, you must not behave in ways that would indicate you are a married couple.

How long do I have to be separated before I can get divorced?

Before a spouse can even file for a no-fault divorce, the Commonwealth of Virginia requires that they be officially separated for one year, or for six months if they have no minor children and create a separation agreement.

In fault-based cases on the grounds of cruelty, desertion, or abandonment, you can file for a limited divorce from “bed and board” at any point after your separation period begins. However, the court will only transfer a limited divorce to an absolute divorce from the bond of matrimony (i.e., you become legally single) after the couple has been separated for a full year.

Establishing the date of separation becomes important here: If the timeline is contested by either spouse, it may delay your divorce proceedings. A surefire way to prove the timeline of your separation is to both sign an agreement that clearly states the date you separated, and that you have no intention of reconciling. If one spouse moves out of the marital home and communicates the intent to end the marriage, this can also be considered a valid date of separation.

Your separation timeline is also important for dividing up assets during your divorce. Generally, any income earned and items purchased after the official separation date are considered separate, individual property that cannot be awarded to your spouse.

There are two key exceptions to the separation waiting period. If you can prove that your spouse committed adultery (or other sexual acts outside of your marriage), or if your spouse has been convicted of a felony and sentenced to at least one year of jail time, you may immediately file for a divorce from the bond of matrimony.

Keep in mind that, due to the complex nature of many divorce cases, it can take months or upwards of a year to get through the litigation process and receive a final order of divorce, regardless of grounds.

Consulting a family law attorney about your separation

If you and your spouse are considering divorce, you’ll want to speak with an experienced family law attorney to go over your options. A lawyer can also help you draft your separation agreement and reach the fairest, most equitable divorce settlement possible.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., has been serving Northern Virginia families for more than 15 years, and we can make this complicated, difficult period in your life easier. Contact us today to speak with a counselor about your needs and circumstances.

Divorce in the Military

Divorce in the Military

Divorce in the Military
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

Divorce laws vary from state to state, and are generally controlled by the statutes of the State where the parties last cohabitated as husband and wife. But, what if you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces? Do the same rules apply?

When it comes to military divorces, special rules and requirements apply to U.S. service members and their spouses. Divorce in that situation can be controlled by both State and Federal statutes.

When serving active duty, the service member is generally protected from divorce proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that states that a service member cannot either be sued for or begin divorce proceedings while they are on active duty or for 60 days following active duty (at the court’s discretion). In addition under SCRA, a court can delay divorce proceedings during the time the service member is on active duty or for up to 60 days afterward.

Three Options of Where to File for Military Divorce

Prior to a divorce being granted, the court in which the case is filed must have both personal jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction over the specific area of the law involved (e.g., military courts do not hear divorce cases, and state courts do not hear military cases). “Jurisdiction” over the parties generally (or their last marital residence) will determine which court has the authority to make decisions regarding the divorce. For civilians, it is most often where they live; their state of legal residence. With military divorce, because a member of the U.S. Armed Forces can designate residency in state where they do not reside full-time while in active duty, determinations of “jurisdiction” often are controlled by where the spouse filing for the divorce resides, particularly if that is where the parties last cohabitated together as husband and wife. In some instances, where the real estate the parties own or where the children are being raised plays a significant role as well in deciding which court has proper “jurisdiction” over the case. Hence it is recommended to obtain a family law/divorce attorney to properly guide you on which state is proper or best to file in for the divorce.

For military members and spouses, divorce can be filed by one of three choices:

1. In the state where the military member is a legal resident;
2. In the place where legal residence of the spouse is established, even if that service member is stationed elsewhere;
3. In the state where the military member is currently stationed, whether or not they are a legal resident of that state.

Division of Military Pensions and Benefits

In the event of divorce, a military pension is subject to division between spouses and under the federal statute known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). Depending on the state, it can be treated as sole or community property, and divided between or awarded to a spouse based on that state’s specific laws governing divorce. The USFSPA guides the court on how best to address issues like military pension, child support and spousal support.

Military spouses are also subject to the “ten year rule,” which allows a former spouse to receive direct deposit payment of his or her portion of the former service member spouse’s military retirement from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) so long as there was ten years of marriage that overlapped with ten years of military service.

As an example, if a couple were married for 15 years, with the military member serving for 8 of those years, the spouse would not be eligible for direct payment through DFAS, and s/he would then have to receive those amounts on a monthly basis from the military member spouse until paid in full. However, if a couple were married for 15 years and the military member served for 12 of those years, all payments would be by direct deposit from DFAS to the former spouse would be made by DFAS. A spouse cannot collect his/her portion of the retirement pay until such time as the retiree applies for it; therefore, some people put a specific time frame as to when to begin claiming/receiving benefits into their divorce settlement.

The maximum amount a spouse can receive of the military retirement income is 50%. If the payment also includes child support, the maximum combined amount deducted from the disposable retirement pay cannot exceed 65%. Both the military member and the spouse should be aware of the full value of the pension when settling a divorce.

Spouses of former military service members may also receive full medical, commissary and exchange privileges (full base privileges) in addition to pension benefits (as long as they don’t remarry) under the following conditions, sometimes called the 20/20/20 rule:

• The marriage lasted 20 years or more;
• The service member has 20 or more years of creditable service toward retirement pay; and
• There was a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service.

In addition, in cases of divorce, the ex-spouse of a military member is no longer a beneficiary of the Survivor Benefit Plan, as they were while married. This benefit must be addressed in the divorce settlement.

Determination of Alimony and Child Support

The military has specific rules for determining spousal and child support and may also require the payor-spouse to maintain life insurance covering these payments for a specified period. A divorced spouse will no longer qualify to take advantage of on-post military housing and will need to find housing elsewhere.

The court may enforce these obligations by:
• Court-order
• Garnishment
• Voluntary or Involuntary Allotment

Contact a Family Law Attorney Familiar with Military Divorces

Since there are special rules and regulations regarding a military divorce, it is best to seek legal advice before taking action. At the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi would be glad to provide representation in seeking your divorce or assist you with issues of child or spousal support. Located near INOVA Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg (Lansdowne), Virginia, we serve clients throughout Northern Virginia. Please contact us today.

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest

Dealing with a Family Member’s Arrest
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

You’ve received that phone call where the loved one on the other end of the line says, “I’ve been arrested.” Now what do you do?

Remain Calm

The first recommendation is to remain calm. Your loved one needs your strength now, so help them calm down as well. Ask them to be respectful with the authorities but to let them know that they should invoke the right to remain silent and that family is going to retain an attorney for them. Assure them that you will work on their behalf. It is not the time for blaming, shaming, yelling or escalating the situation in any way. If you were present at the arrest, you yourself must be respectful to the police office but are not required to divulge any information to them or answer questions.

Learn the Details

Find out at which jail your loved one is being detained, and on what charge. Give this information to an attorney that you have hired to represent your family in this matter. Phone calls are recorded at the adult detention centers in Virginia if you loved one is calling you on their pay phone system, so absolutely nothing should be said by either of you about the facts surrounding the case; or anything else that could be incriminating to you or your loved one. Address only the matter or arranging for legal counsel and how your loved one is holding up.

You may or may not want to contact other loved ones. If you do, inquire as to their resources that may be able to help.

Know Your Rights and Those of the Police

A loved one who is arrested has: (1) the right to remain silent; and/or (2) the right to speak to an attorney. But he or she must tell the police (invoke) that they are exercising those rights if they intend to have them honored. If they start talking about the case, they may waive those rights simply by choosing to do so—even after first invoking them. No questions should be answered without the attorney present, regardless of whether the alleged crime is or is not a serious one. They should know that in questioning, the interview is either recorded, or the arrested party may be asked to sign a statement confirming that the interview record is accurate.

The police will most likely photograph the arrested person and take fingerprints. They may also legally take a DNA sample or swabs of the skin on the arms and hands. If they want urine, blood or dental impressions, it requires the permission of the person, unless the arrest is related to driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

An arrested person can be held for up to 24 hours as a suspect or “person of interest.” After that time, they must be charged with a crime or released, unless a request for an extended incarceration is requested by authorities for 36 to 96 hours if the person is suspected in a serious crime. Those involved in acts of terrorism can be held without charge up to 14 days if arrested under the Terrorism Act.

After questioning, the police may release your relative either without charge or on bail (secured or unsecured by a bond). If bail is not granted, the person may have to remain in police custody until the family can obtain an attorney to file a motion with the court to have a bail amount set by a judge.

At an arraignment hearing, charges will be read and the bond amount and any conditions, such as the bond amount, will be set. If bail is met, the arrestee will be asked to sign a ”signature bond” that states that he or she recognizes his or her obligation to appear in court. You may help them pay the bail.

The information in this blog post pertains mostly to adults who are arrested. Some different practices may come into play with minor children. For example, the child may have the right to an attorney present during questioning, but not a parent. An experienced family law attorney who has also handled criminal law matters can help you ensure your loved one’s rights are protected.

Contact Your Attorney

Make contact with your attorney as soon as possible. Arrange for an attorney to help you with the immediate issues including representation during questioning and at the arraignment hearing. You attorney will also advise you as to the steps you need to take.

Do not sign a long-term agreement with an attorney until you know what the charges are and whether you will need their help long-term. Beware of lawyers who try to push you into an extended engagement immediately or want to rush you to a plea bargain.

Beware also of friends and family who try to give you legal advice. Stick to the licensed attorney’s recommendations. A criminal defense attorney, unlike a friend or family member, is the only one who can offer attorney-client protection for the statements made by the arrested person, and the only one who cannot be called to testify against the client as to what the client said about the events leading to his or her arrest. A family member is always open to being subpoenaed to disclose what the loved one shared. Thus, the reason to tell them nothing – even to you – and to save all discussions about their case for the attorney.

Gather Funds

You will need money to post bail or to pay attorney fees, so take action to gather the necessary funds. Criminal defense attorneys typically charge up-front deposits, and sometimes a flat fee, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Don’t Feel Guilty

People from any family can get arrested, so don’t get caught up in feelings of guilt. Deal with the shock and begin the process of rectifying the situation as best you can. And be aware that others, including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., may act in an accusatory way or say things that might be hurtful upon hearing of the arrest. Don’t let them incite and distract you; stick to your plan and follow the legal advice of your attorney.

Contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor

Attorney Patricia E. Tichenor spent a number of years handling criminal cases while practicing family law. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. is often called upon to help with highly-emotional issues such as family member arrests, and can provide legal advice and representation in a caring and competent manner to families in Northern Virginia. If your loved one has been arrested, contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi today.

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia

Protective Orders for Spouses or Children in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

A protective, or restraining, order is a court-issued legal document designed to protect the petitioner from of violence, abuse and threats for a fixed period of time. It is designed to protect the safety and health of any person who is placed in fear or threat of bodily injury.

3 Types of Family Abuse Protective Orders in Virginia

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are three types of protective orders aimed at protecting spouses or children, including:
Emergency Protective Order
This type of protective order is requested in emergency situations and therefore can be issued by any court, Juvenile or Domestic Relations judge, or magistrate at any time of the day or night. It can also be requested by a law enforcement officer without notifying the alleged abuser. Expires at the end of the third day after issuance or the next day court is in session (whichever is later).
Preliminary Protective Order
This type of protective order is issued by a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when the petitioner shows proof that they are in immediate danger from the alleged abuser, who does not need to be notified prior to issuing the protective order. The petitioner must either provide an affidavit or testify under oath, and the order expires 15 days following the day it was issued or until a full hearing.
Full Protective Order
This type of protective order is issued following a full hearing, when the alleged abuser is given the chance to be heard in court. Its duration can last up to two years.

When protection is first issued, it is only temporary, and is called a PPO, or Preliminary Protection Order. It will include a date indicating when you must return to court, generally in about 15 days, at which time the judge will determine if a Full Protective Order is required. Both the petitioner and the abuser are asked to be present.

What a Restraining Order Can Do

A restraining order can:
• Order the abuser to cease contact with you or other people in your family, in person, by telephone, at home or work, or anywhere requested within the order.
• Demand that the abuser vacate the shared home
• Grant custody of minor children
• Order child support and spousal support
• Order payment for costs resulting from abuse, such as household bills, medical treatment, loss of earnings, etc.
• Order professional counseling for the abuser

How a Protective Order Can Help Victims of Family Abuse

All types of protective orders in Virginia can prohibit further abuse, prohibit any contact by the defendant with the victims of abuse, and remove the defendant from the home in which the victims live (without affecting the property’s title).

Preliminary and full protective orders can also grant the victims the sole use of a motor vehicle either owned by the victims or by both the petitioner and defendant (without affecting the vehicle’s title), as well as order the defendant to provide housing for the victims.

Do Not Hesitate to File a Protective Order

If you or your children are threatened, or if a member of your family or household harms you in any way, do not hesitate to file a petition against them in your local Juvenile and Domestic Division. However, as this legal document can only protect you if the abuser respects it, call 911 immediately if you feel you are in any type of danger.

Every day the media is flooded with another instance of family-related violence. Don’t let the next story be yours.

Contact Your Family Law Attorney

For information or any advice regarding family abuse or protective orders in Virginia, contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. We can advise you on the best methods to keep yourself and your children safe, and on the next steps to take to ensure ongoing protection. Contact us today.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
Professional Legal Services or Legal Representation
(703) 669-6700

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  • High quality service with both personal and a professional touch. I would highly recommend their services, they helped prepare my estate in the event of my demise. They also prepared the necessary documents to complete my wife's estate after her passing, both with outstanding results. - Jim D.
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