The articles from The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. are focusing on
the areas of Family Law and Estate Law, and range of other legal areas.

Estate Planning Tips for Every Age

mother and daughter working on estate plans
Estate Planning Tips for Every Age |

Many people don’t start thinking about estate planning until later in life. However, it’s never too early for an adult to start thinking about their plans. Just like planning for retirement, it’s best to start making your plans early if you want your loved ones to avoid unnecessary struggles when you die, especially if you pass away unexpectedly.

No matter what age you are, there are some things you can do to start preparing your final wishes and legacy. Here are some expert estate planning tips for every age, from your 20s through your 60s and beyond.

Estate planning in your 20s

You may not have many assets in your 20s, but your estate plans should, at the very minimum, include a Will, a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney (POA).

Each POA serves a specific process in one’s estate planning endeavors. The healthcare POA helps you choose someone to make medical decisions for you should you become unable to do so. The durable POA handles all financial and business affairs if you are unable to handle them yourself.

As for your Will, if you don’t have major assets, a spouse, or children, a simple Will may be enough to cover what you currently have. However, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced attorney to find out whether this would be sufficient.

Estate planning in your 30s

Many people in their 30s are married and may own a home, have a family, and a few financial assets. To accommodate the additions of a spouse and perhaps children, it’s good to review your Will and consider creating a trust.

Unlike assets left to beneficiaries in a Will, a trust can protect certain assets from going through the probate process and also designate someone to manage assets for minor children until they are old enough to inherit them. If you do have minor children, you will also want to designate a standby legal guardian for them in your estate plans in case you and their other parent die before they reach adulthood.

Estate planning in your 40s

Many people begin accumulating more wealth and assets throughout their 40s. At this stage, it is a good time to start talking to family members about your plans. These conversations will be some of the most difficult discussions of the entire estate planning process. However, it’s better to start them early than leave your family in the dark about your estate plans. Make sure to inform your loved ones of asset distribution and your wishes for medical decisions and long-term care if you develop a health condition.

Estate planning in your 50s

By the time you reach your 50s, you may want to look at estate plans made earlier in your life and update it to account for any life changes you may have experienced. Perhaps you sold a home, got divorced, or now have grandchildren with whom you’d like to share your estate. Ensure that all documents, including your payable on death accounts (like a retirement savings plan) and powers of attorney, are up-to-date, and that you have clear plans outlined for how your loved ones should handle your affairs in case of incapacitation.

Estate planning at 60+

By the time you reach 60, your estate planning documents and final wishes should all be in order. Beyond this point, you should periodically review your documents for any possible discrepancies and update it frequently, especially if your health takes a turn or your family or financial circumstances change. That way, your loved ones will know what to do when you pass away, and you can feel secure in the knowledge that your family will take care of your assets and distribute them according to your Will.

Get help with your estate plans at any age

Whether you’re creating your first Will or updating an existing estate plan, the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor can help. We’ve been serving Virginia residents for 20 years and can advise you on the best estate planning tools for your current assets and needs. Contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation today.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Your Will

close up of last will and testament document
Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Will |

There’s a lot that goes into writing a Will, and it can be easy to miss a step or forget to add important sections altogether.

To help you avoid these types of issues, here are seven common mistakes to look out for when you’re writing a Will and what to do instead.

1. Ignoring state rules/guidelines

Each state has different guidelines for writing a Will, including the Commonwealth of Virginia. For instance, in Virginia, a testator must have their Will “witnessed” (signed in front of them) by two competent adults, unless it is wholly written and signed in the testator’s own handwriting and proven by the testimony of two disinterested witnesses to be the testator’s handwriting and signature through the court hearing held after the testator’s death. If such guidelines are ignored, the Will may be held invalid by the court.

2. Naming the wrong person as an executor

If you choose someone to be an executor who does not have the time, willingness, or competency to take on the responsibilities listed, it can create conflict and take longer for the distribution of a decedent’s estate to be carried out consistent with the wishes set forth in the Will. It’s important to carefully select an executor, talk to them about the role, and name at least one or two alternates in your Will to serve as backups just in case your first named executor is unable or unwilling to serve.

3. Not specifying a plan for certain assets

Some of the most important assets people often forget to address as part of their Will relate to the power of their Executor to deal with their online/digital assets. These can include social media accounts and profiles, email accounts, and even banking login credentials. If you want these to be given to a specific person to own and manage after your death, or if you want these accounts to be closed, make sure your state this in your Last Will and Testament.  In Virginia, you can also create a Memorandum or Tangible Property List that permits you to direct your Executor to give certain items of your jewelry, clothes, furniture, and books, which you can update on your own – as long as you have a signed Will – as long as it is signed and dated by you, and found with your Will at your death.  If there is no guideline, your Executor may find they have to donate or sell those items to pay creditors or other debts of the estate.

4. Failing to name a guardian for your minor child(ren)

If you’re a parent of minor children, it’s important to factor in their care and well-being when drafting your Will. Children whose parents die before they reach 18, as well as adult children with special needs, need an appointed legal guardian in the event that both of their parents pass away. Naming a guardian in your Will (rather than leaving the decision up to the court) is the best way to ensure someone you know and trust assumes responsibility for your child(ren) should you die prematurely. However, it is important you talk with the individual(s) you plan to name as guardian to ensure they have the willingness and ability to take on this role.

5. Including funeral plans

Many people mistakenly believe they must spell out plans for their funeral in their Will.  In reality, you risk that your Will may not be read by your executor until after your arrangements (such as cremation or a funeral) have already been made by your family without benefit of reading your Will.  If you have specific requests for your burial, cremation, or memorial service, you should consider only providing a general reference of those wishes in your Will and a Durable Medical Power of Attorney while indicating you plan to prepare a separate, more detailed private document setting forth the full details of your plans.

6. Leaving your Will out of date after a life event

Things like marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or even death of a spouse can occur after you’ve drafted an estate plan. It’s crucial to update your Will as circumstances change so that it reflects the most current information and directions as to how you want your assets (not otherwise distributed to a named beneficiary) to be distributed. You should think about review your existing Will at least every five year five years to determine if changes are needed, and especially if there a major life has taken place.

7. Not getting help from an estate planning attorney

Estate planning attorneys know the ins and outs of the locate estate planning and probate laws. This ensures they can properly guide you on how to navigate the entire process of not only creating a proper Will but ensuring it is administered properly after your death. They can help educate you on how to avoid probate, determine the best way to name and provide for your beneficiaries (i.e., adult versus a minor child), establish financial and medical powers of attorney, set up a trust if better suited to your estate planning goals, and reduce taxes. 

If you’re looking for an estate planning attorney in Virginia to help you write your Will and ensure all state guidelines are met, contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor to schedule a complimentary consultation.

What If No One Wants to Be My Executor?

estate planning lawyer executor discussion
What If No One Wants to Be My Executor? |

For many people, choosing an executor for their estate means asking a spouse, adult child, or close friend or relative to take on an important responsibility after they’ve died. However, a friend or family member isn’t always the best person to serve as executor — and in some cases, the person you ask may not want to take on the role because of how complex and time-consuming it can be.

If you can’t seem to find an estate executor, there are several alternative routes you can take. Here’s what you can do if everyone you ask refuses to take on the responsibilities of being your executor.

What is an executor?

When someone creates their last Will and testament, they typically appoint a person to carry out their wishes when they die. This person becomes the executor of the Will. An executor is typically appointed by the testator.  If there is no will, referred to as “dying intestate,” then a friend or family member (and even a creditor if no one else steps up) can seek to be appointed by the probate court as a personal administrator of the estate.  The roles and responsibilities of an executor and personal administrator are the same; only their titles are different for purposes of seeking appointment and qualification.

Executors are responsible for managing assets and fulfilling the final wishes of the deceased individual. During the testator’s lifetime, it may be prudent to discuss with your chosen executor who you have named as beneficiaries on any assets outside of the Will, such as naming a pay-on-death beneficiary on life insurance, retirement, or a bank accounts; and those assets which you expect to require probate.

The key here is that, if assets pass through your Will, then those are probate assets. If they don’t pass through your Will, then they are non-probate assets. Such a discussion aids in a smoother transition at your death, and avoids your Executor listing the assets as “probate” assets that are, in fact, not probate assets on the forms he or she files with the probate court.

What are the duties of an executor?

There can be a lot of responsibilities that come with being an executor, however, there are attorneys that can be of assistance along the way. An executor should have access to, and copies of, any important documents, including the Will.

The executor should be familiar with all names, addresses and phone numbers of the beneficiaries identified in the Will and have a good sense of who they are in order to carry out the testator’s wishes accurately. They’ll need to make sure the testator’s debts are paid off before they can distribute assets to beneficiaries, so they will also need access to a list of any financial accounts and creditors the testator may have.

Why might someone refuse to be an executor?

There are many reasons why a person may turn down the role of executor. Some of the most common include:

  • Disagreements between co-executors. In some cases, there may be more than one executor appointed by the testator. If the co-executors cannot agree on key decisions, the order of arrangements, or their responsibilities, they may decide to back out.
  • Family tension. Part of the will may include distributing inheritances or allocating assets to members of the family. The executor may choose to leave their responsibilities if they face backlash from family who don’t receive things in the will or don’t get as much as another person.
  • Amount of responsibilities. The job of being an executor can take a lot of time and effort that most people are not prepared for. There are certain things an executor must do before others, such as ensuring all debts are paid off before distributing inheritances and other estates. The appointed executor may not feel comfortable or may not have the time to carry out these responsibilities.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a backup executor in mind in case your primary choice backs out.

Options if you can’t find an executor

The process of finding an executor may not always be an easy one. If relatives and friends refuse the role when you ask, here are a few other options to explore.

  • Ask your attorney or CPA or Certified Financial Planner. An experienced financial or legal professional can be an excellent choice to serve as an executor, as they have intimate knowledge of your finances and/or estate plans. This type of professional is also more likely to be familiar with the probate process and can ensure everything runs smoothly.
  • Name a local financial institution or trust company. Financial institutions and trust companies can administer estates in Virginia. A corporation is also able to act as an estate executor. Keep in mind, however, that a corporate executor must be authorized to do business in Virginia to serve in this role.
  • But – Before You Sign Your Will – Learn more about local Probate Rules first before naming someone who is not a beneficiary to serve as executor. Failing to name the same people who are your beneficiaries (like your spouse or children) to also serve as Executor(s) of your Will can result is much more substantial expenses for your estate.  When the same persons who are beneficiaries of an estate are also executors, there will have far less paperwork burdens than someone who is not a named beneficiary.  This is especially true when leaving your entire estate to your spouse or children. Consulting with an experienced probate attorney about this aspect of estate planning, before you die and before you sign a Will, is extremely important.

Your spouse, children, or other family members who you name does not need to consent to you naming them in your Will, and you should always reassure them that, after your death, they can work with an experienced probate attorney to help them step-by-step with advising, educating, and, if needed, handling the probate process.  This should allay their reluctance to be appointed to serve in this role.

If you are looking for help finding an executor or need legal guidance regarding your current Will, preparing a new Will, or understanding the Probate Process in Virginia, contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor to discuss your concerns and schedule a consultation.