Estate Planning – Will and Trust Planning
You have spent a lifetime accumulating wealth and assets for yourself and your loved ones, so it only makes sense to
create a plan that will ensure your chosen recipients will enjoy and benefit from your hard labors.
Losing a loved one can be devastating, and can be even more difficult if probate issues arise following their death or heirs do not agree with the actions of an executor. Having an estate plan in place is essential for avoiding probate and complex legal issues while you or your loved ones are grieving.
Estate Planning, by definition, is the preparation during one’s life for the transfer of a person’s estate after his or her death. This includes their wealth, real estate, assets, life insurance, personal property and debts, and it is often used for asset protection or to eliminate uncertainty and maximize the estate’s value by reducing taxes and other expenses.
Through consultation and thoughtful guidance, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. can help you determine which of the many vehicles you should put into place that would help ensure an efficient transfer of your estate and avoidance of probate. For additional information, please contact us about trust planning or a will.
Estate PlanningEstate Planning is the process of anticipating and arranging, during one’s lifetime, for the disposal of one’s estate following their death. Options include: wills, a living will, trusts, property ownership, beneficiary appointments, powers of appointment and powers of attorney. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. can provide expert guidance as to which devices are most appropriate for your needs and help you prepare the correct procedures and documents that ensure protection and peaceful transfer of your estate. We will also advise you how to avoid probate in drafting your estate plan as well as the implications for taxation of your estate due to lifetime gifting or gifts made at your death.
Elder LawElder Law is an ever-changing and highly diverse area of law that generally refers to the legal issues of Senior Citizens, including estate planning, plans for incapacity or mental incompetence, health care, other benefits, and final medical care. Many issues faced by Senior Citizens arise due to a lack of effective estate and probate planning, including a lack of a Durable Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will, and a lack of a Durable General Power of Attorney to ensure proper protection of their legal rights as well as their day-to-day financial management needs. Contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. for more information. For professional legal services or legal representation, contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. at 703-669-6700 or through our online contact form.
Guardianship, Conservatorship and Special Needs TrustsThe need for guardianship or conservatorship planning is intended to assist with the care of young children, older adults, or an incapacitated family member of any age. Special Needs Trusts are designed to protect an adult (age 18+) requiring more support than usual in life, offering assistance with decision-making and various life skills, and creating a legal arrangement to ensure they have what they need for a safe and comfortable life. If you have child with special needs, such as Down Syndrome or a severe developmental or mental health issue, you may want to ensure that you can protect and provide for your child during their lifetime or after your death. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C will assist you in creating an estate plan, which may include seeking appointment as a Guardian or Conservator for your adult child, or drawing up a Special Needs Trust, in order to ensure your child’s rights and needs are protected for his or her lifetime not only while you’re here but, also, after you’re gone.
WillsThere are several types of wills, and knowing how to make even a “Simple Will” work in a manner that ensures distribution consistent with your straightforward wishes is why using an attorney makes all the difference to having a successful plan. Yes, you can try to prepare a “Simple Will” yourself, but, unless you’re an attorney, you may not realize what you have omitted or what ensures the Will is valid not only in Virginia but all 50 States at your death. We can help you determine which is the correct type of will for your estate. Once you’ve created your detailed Will, it is important to keep it updated. For any significant life change or asset purchase, you should contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C to determine how this may impact your existing estate plan. The solution could be as simply as a beneficiary designation or as complex as moving from solely a Will to using a revocable living Trust plan, depending on the nature of the change experienced or anticipated.
ProbateYou are already dealing with the traumatic loss of a loved one, so we try to put instruments in place to lessen the legal issues following a death, including probate. Probate is the process by which a will is determined valid or invalid when a person dies, and the process a legal court takes to conclude a person’s legal and financial matters when there is no will in place. One way to avoid probate is to create a trust (sometimes called a “living trust”) to hold your assets and ensure clear directions as to how those assets will distributed upon your death. If you are forced into probate due to the lack of a valid will or trust plan, you will need an attorney to help you deal with the complex legal issues. These concerns are the reason we want to see you at our office, so we can provide honest and effective estate planning and probate guidance. Contact us to learn more.
Trust PlanningA trust is a fiduciary arrangement where one or more people are assigned to hold property or assets for someone else. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. A Testamentary Trust is created through a will, and a Living Trust is created during your lifetime to transfer your property to another’s care so that upon your incapacitation or death, your estate is handled on your behalf. Trusts can be complicated, so we advise that you contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. to discuss your options.
GuardianshipGuardianship often deals with arrangements for the care of minor children in a parent’s absence; however, it can also apply to older children with special needs, or adults needing assistance for day-to-day life. If another person is dependent upon you for care, you must make appropriate legal plans to ensure their safety. A power of attorney may be an option, but it is often not available if the person needing a guardian does not have the capacity to sign a power of attorney or is vulnerable to being manipulated by other third parties into signing a new and very different power of attorney that revokes your rights to serve in that role.
4 Common Estate Planning Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make
1. Only writing a willA will is the most commonly discussed estate planning document, but it's not the only one you need. You should also have a power of attorney – a legal agreement to give another person the authority to make important financial and medical decisions for you if you have lost the capacity to do so yourself while you're alive. You can have separate POA agreements for financial versus medical decisions, but whoever you choose for the role(s) should be someone you trust to act in the best interest of you and your family. Without these documents, a court-appointed agent or a doctor could be the one making decisions about your assets and medical care.
2. Assigning responsibilities to the wrong individualsNaming someone as an estate executor, a trustee, or a guardian to your minor children may seem like a great honor, but it also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Think about whether the people you choose for these roles can handle the duties involved, as well as whether they might let family conflicts or greed get in the way of carrying out your intentions. Sometimes, it's better to name an objective non-family member or hire a professional trustee who does not stand to benefit from your assets.
3. Never updating your will or beneficiariesEstate planning is not a one-and-done activity. As you go through life, your circumstances and relationships will change, and you need to continually update your estate planning documents to reflect your current situation, especially if someone you've named as a beneficiary passes away or is otherwise no longer in your life. Many experts recommend reviewing your will every three to five years, but at minimum, you should update it whenever you experience a major life event – marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a relative, etc. It's also important to keep track of assets that are transferred outside the probate process – such as retirement accounts, life insurance, and joint property – and ensure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date.
4. Not making estate plans at allA 2017 BMO Wealth Management survey found that a staggering 52 percent of Americans have not made a formal will. Verbally telling family members about your intentions or writing a letter for your children to open upon your passing does not constitute a legally valid last will and testament. It can be scary to face your own mortality and procrastinate on estate planning, but it's even scarier to think about the legal, financial, and emotional aggravation your children and surviving relatives will have to deal with if you don't have a plan in place.
How to Avoid Estate Planning MistakesThe best way to secure your family's future is to work with a professional to create and update your estate planning documents. An experienced estate planning attorney will help you cover all your bases, and include the right legal language to ensure your wishes are honored. Even if you write your own will, you should still hire a lawyer to review and revise it. Contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. to speak with one of our counselors about your estate plans today.
The True Costs of Probate: How to Save Your Loved Ones Moneyestate planning attorney does cost money, their fees pale in comparison to what your loved ones will have to pay if your assets get tied up in probate court. Probate is the process through which a deceased person's estate is divided and distributed among his or her named beneficiaries if there is a will or to the heirs, as defined by statute, if there is no will. If a person dies intestate (without a will), a probate court will approve an administrator to manage the distribution of the deceased person’s estate as well as the payment to the administrator for providing these management services under the court’s supervision. Assets where no will exists or where a will is improperly drafted may pass to persons you might never have intended to benefit from your estate. In addition, if there are not sufficient assets passing through the will, your beneficiaries therein may not (due to improper planning) receive all that you might have otherwise desired. Even if you write a will and designate your beneficiaries, a probate court still needs to review and accept the document before your beneficiaries receive their inheritance – and you can be certain that the court will take a percentage of it before passing it on.You might think you can save on estate planning costs by skipping the lawyer and writing your own will, or forgoing a will altogether. While a good
What are some common probate fees an estate has to pay?Like any court proceeding, the probate process will incur certain fees that are taken out of your estate, thereby reducing the total value of assets received by your beneficiaries or heirs. Here are a few common probate costs your loved ones may have to deal with upon your death:
- Court fees. The probate court takes its fees out of your estate's total value, as dictated by state law.
- Appraisal fees. To determine the value of your property (both real and personal) and any business interests you owned at the time of your death, your estate will need to pay an appraiser.
- Executor/Administrator fees. The executor of your will, whether appointed by you or the court, is entitled to a "reasonable fee" paid by your estate for carrying out their responsibilities. However, it is common for executors to waive this fee if they are already receiving a substantial inheritance from your estate.
- Attorney’s fees. Like your executor or administrator, the attorney representing your estate in the probate process is entitled to receive payment for their services consistent with their hourly rate.
- Accountant fees. Depending on the value and complexity of your estate, your executor/administrator may need to hire someone to file the proper tax forms, if not prepared by the attorney.
How to reduce probate costsThe easiest way to lessen the financial burden of probate is to create a living trust. This estate planning tool allows you to place certain property and financial assets in the care of a designated trustee. While you may be your own trustee during your lifetime, your successor – an appointed family member, friend, or corporate bank entity, for instance – will inherit the assets in your trust upon your death, and manage them on behalf of your beneficiaries (trust beneficiaries are often minor children or grandchildren). If it is a revocable living trust, the terms can be changed at any point during your life. Because ownership of property held in a trust does not go through the probate process, your family will not have to pay the court fees to receive their inheritance. It's also faster and more direct than passing property solely through a will, since the court will not challenge or interfere with your decisions. As an added bonus, a trust can even help your family save on estate taxes.
Speak with an estate planning attorneyAn experienced estate planning attorney knows the ins and outs of probate law, and will be able to tell you the most cost-effective ways to distribute your assets based on your circumstances. Your lawyer will ensure that your trust is properly created and legally valid, so that when the time comes, your family can receive their inheritance efficiently, and with the least costs incurred. For more than 15 years, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. has assisted Northern Virginia families with their estate planning needs. Contact us today to learn how we can help you create the best plan for your family's future, and potentially reduce probate court costs for your loved ones.
Estate Planning Documents: What Do I Need?probate court may have the final say over what happens to parts of your estate, a process that is both costly and potentially heartbreaking for your loved ones. Before concluding that your estate plan is complete, be sure that you've determined whether you actually need all or some of the following estate planning documents to achieve your specific goals for your plan:You probably know you need to write a will to distribute your property and financial assets following your death. This is a good start, but for a comprehensive, complete estate plan, you'll need a few more essential documents. Other estate planning tools, such as a living trust and a power of attorney (POA) agreement, work in conjunction with your last will and testament to make sure your intentions are honored on all fronts. Without these additional documents, a
1. Last will and testamentWhen drafted according to your home state's laws, your will is a binding legal document that tells a probate court how to follow your final wishes. Every will needs an executor – whether it's a family member, friend, or trusted professional like an attorney – to oversee the management of your assets after your death. This person will pay your final debts and expenses, file estate taxes, and make distributions to your named beneficiaries. They will also distribute items from your tangible property list to named beneficiaries if you leave such a list.
2. Revocable living trustWhile you still always need a will, many estate planning attorneys recommend distributing some property via a revocable living trust. A trustee of your choosing will manage the assets titled into the name of your trust (before and after your death) – without court interference – on behalf of the beneficiary you designate. If you decide to add a living trust to your estate plan, then you can have a very simple will that functions as what’s called a "pour-over will," to allow your executor to merely serve to transfer to the control of your trustee and your trust any assets that you did not title in the trust prior to your death, did not name the trust as the beneficiary of prior to your death, or did not name a living person to receive at your death.
3. Durable general power of attorney and durable medical power of attorneyThe person(s) you name in your power of attorney agreements are the ones who have the legal right to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated during your lifetime. Your POA agents should be individuals whom you trust to act in your best interest if you are mentally or physically unable to communicate your intentions.
4. Beneficiary designations: Guidance on Non-Probate PlanningMost people know that for assets such as retirement plans and insurance policies, you need to fill out the beneficiary designation forms provided by the company that holds your account. Forms for such assets supersede your will instructions, so always keep them up-to-date, especially if you've had any recent major life changes. However, you can do this with many other types of assets and are encouraged to seek guidance on doing so as part of a comprehensive estate plan.
5. Legal guardianship designationIf you have minor children, you'll need to choose a trusted legal guardian to care for them if you become disabled or die before they are of age. It's wise to have this discussion with your potential guardian before naming them in your estate plans. If you don't, the process can be costly and stressful for the children and family members to deal with, including home visits, possible foster family care, and court appearance to have someone appointed guardian.
Optional: Letter of intentAlthough it's not considered a legally valid estate planning document, you may want to create a letter of intent to guide your estate executor with specific instructions to follow upon your death, including potential funeral arrangements. Such letters could be a good way to communicate your final burial wishes or the reasons for making certain gifts to certain beneficiaries. Lastly, such letters might also help a probate court interpret your will and intentions if any part of it is called into question.
Need estate planning forms? Speak with your attorney.Not sure where to begin with your estate plan documentation? The The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. can help. We have been assisting Northern Virginia families with their estate planning needs since 2001. Contact us today to learn how we can help you create the best plan for your family's future, and ensure that all the necessary forms are complete and legally sound.