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What You Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney

What You Really Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney

What You Do and Don’t Need from Your Estate Planning Attorney |
NOVAEstateLawyers.com

Whether you’re drafting your first Will or updating an existing plan, it’s important to work with a trusted estate planning attorney throughout your lifetime. Not only does this ensure your final wishes are documented and all your beneficiaries and heirs are covered, but it also provides you peace of mind knowing your plans are legally sound and properly drafted.

To help you get the most out of your arrangement, here are some things you do and don’t need to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

You DO need a Will.

A Will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding your estate. This includes decisions like who gets your property, who will care for minor children, how your financial assets will be distributed, and more. It’s important to have a Will in place at any age to ensure your wishes are granted should something happen to you, and that your beneficiaries do not face any challenges inheriting from your estate.

You DO need powers of attorney.

Thinking about death or incapacitation is scary, but not having a plan in place for who will manage your assets, pay your bills, or make medical decisions for you is even scarier. That’s why every estate plan should include signed financial and medical power of attorney documents.

Without a designated power of attorney (sometimes referred to as your “attorney-in-fact” or your “agent”) to manage your financial affairs and medical decisions (including end-of-life decisions), the courts may be called upon to decide, and they could select a person that you may have never wanted in those roles. It is also far more expensive to go this route than to have powers of attorney drafted and signed in advance—about 10 times more.

You DO need standby guardians for your minor children.

When individuals have children under the age of 18, they need a Designation of Standby Guardian that appoints a trusted friend or family member to care for their child(ren) should both parents pass away or suffer a severe illness or injury that renders them unable to care for the child(ren) themselves.  In some states, including Virginia, there is also a special Power of Attorney form now available, but that document only remains in effect for six months at a time, and must be re-executed at the end of the 6 months.

You DON’T always need a trust.

Many people exploring estate planning for the first time are confused about whether they really need a trust. Trusts can be very useful, but they are also very expensive and require additional steps after you sign to fund them or re-title your assets in the name of the Trust.

If your total estate is valued at less than the current federal estate tax exemption of $11.7 million, you don’t necessarily need a trust to shield a portion of your taxable assets (although this exemption amount will eventually be reduced). Moreover, if the beneficiaries of your estate are residents of a state that does not have an inheritance tax, you may then only need a well-

written Last Will and Testament rather than a trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

You can also use something called a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed, sometimes called “the poor-man’s trust” to leave real estate you own directly to a loved one without it ever having to pass through a Will or probate.

You DON’T need to add your funeral wishes to your Will.

Many people assume they must include detailed funeral instructions in their estate plans, but this is a common misconception. The probate process typically happens after your funeral and therefore will likely not even be seen by your loved ones in time to make your desired arrangements. However, you should still discuss your wishes with your family or loved ones during your lifetime. Common points to cover include whether you want a funeral service; if so, where it will be held; who should be notified about your death; whether you want to be cremated or buried; etc.

Contact a trusted estate planning attorney for guidance.

If you do not have a valid Will or your current estate plans are more than five years old, we strongly recommend that you meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to set them in place immediately. You never know when illness or an accident will strike, nor do you know the impact it will have on your family or children if you have no plan or an outdated plan in place.

Looking for legal advice or documents needed to ensure your estate’s security? Schedule a free consultation with the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor for more information

Choosing a Power of Attorney

Choosing a Power of Attorney

Choosing a Power of Attorney
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg

Quickly defined, a Power of Attorney (POA) is a powerful estate planning tool that allows you to appoint a spouse, trusted family member, or friend to assist with handling your financial and medical affairs during a period of disability when you might not be able to do this for yourself. This person may be referred to as your attorney-in-fact or agent. Your agent may be given these powers immediately the day you sign your POA, called non-springing, where you believe any delay to obtain a finding of disability by a doctor would be create greater problems or, instead, as springing powers granted only when one or two licensed physicians determine in writing that you no longer have the capacity to manage your financial or medical care decisions.

A Power of Attorney is a binding legal agreement that must be put into writing, witnessed, and notarized to become valid. For purposes of a financial POA, you must also make it clear, in writing, whether you are giving your agent permission to access and handle all or only some of your accounts for the POA to hold up in court.

You do not have to choose the same person as your agent for financial and medical matters; however, they do need to work together to make decisions on your behalf, according to your wishes. For instance, if you need medical treatment, your financial POA must work together with your medical POA to disclose financial information, fill out forms, or provide funds.

What’s important to keep in mind is that, absent a POA, if you become disabled and no longer have the capacity to handle your finances or make your own medical decisions, there will be delays and greater legal expenses incurred for a member of your family (perhaps even someone you would never choose for the job) to petition a court to be appointed Conservator of your assets or Guardian of your person. It is not unusual even in an uncontested matter for the costs to equal ten times the amount it would cost to simply retain an attorney to prepare a well-written POA to address these matters now before the worst happens.

Choose the Right Person for your Power of Attorney

Choosing the right person is of paramount importance. Select someone you can trust, who has your best interests at heart. Do not select someone who has had legal issues in the past or a person with whom your family does not get along. You may want to discuss your choice of person with your family before signing any documents, but this is not necessary. There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule, including same-sex couples and unmarried couples who may want their partner in the driver’s seat even if their family does not like or approve of the partner.

It is absolutely critical that you designate a person who is capable of handling your affairs and ensuring that the provisions of the POA you sign do not open the door for abuse by someone to benefit himself or herself over (which you should be their first priority) as well as your other family members by engaging in self-dealing behavior with your assets. They must fully understand their duties and be committed to taking them seriously. It is, therefore, recommended to talk to the person(s) you designate to discuss what you expect, and disclose the scope of your affairs before signing any documents. Note whether this person will charge a fee for their services; family members generally do not, but professionals like accountants and attorneys usually do.

You may also want to select a second person to serve as your secondary Power of Attorney in the event that your first choice cannot or will not perform their responsibilities, or passes away.

What if I Want to Change my Power of Attorney?
You may at any time change your assigned Power of Attorney by using a Revocation of Power of Attorney document and creating a new POA document, as a new POA document typically provides for revocation of all prior documents upon signing it. Shredding your older POA after signing a new one is absolutely critical to ensure that only the most current POA is found and utilized in the future.

Consult Your Attorney

Selecting your Power of Attorney may be one of your most important life decisions, so your choice should be considered carefully. Attorneys Patricia E. Tichenor and Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., specialize in Estate Planning issues and can assist in creating the legal documents you need. Please contact us today.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
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(703) 669-6700

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