Everyone should have an estate plan, especially those who want to make sure their assets are transferred to their loved ones after they pass away. The specifics of an estate plan will vary depending on the nature of the assets, the size of the estate owner's family, the needs and preferences of the estate owner, state laws, and other factors. Because of these complex variables, writing a comprehensive estate plan can be a complicated process. While you are free to write your own estate plan, there are several reasons why you should hire an estate planning attorney. You can learn more about estate planning by contacting the experienced Virginia estate planning attorney of the Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC at (571) 403-2619.
Accounting for Federal and State Laws in an Estate Plan
Both federal and local laws can affect the strategy of drafting an estate plan. For instance, federal estate taxes apply nationwide to wealthy estates (those with assets valued at a total of over $12.06 million in 2022, according to the Internal Revenue Service). Some states also assess their own estate taxes, while others do not. Additionally, federal estate planning laws are not set in stone and may change. The current applicable state and federal laws regarding estate planning must be considered when drafting an estate plan. An experienced estate planning lawyer in your state will likely have a detailed knowledge of the current laws relevant to estate planning and how these laws will apply to your estate.
Some of the relevant legal factors that must be considered during the estate planning process include:
- Power of attorney laws - Most estate plans should include two types of power of attorney (POA) documents - a financial POA and a healthcare directive POA. In Virginia, the individual making the power of attorney must be mentally capable of doing so, according to the interpretation of Virginia courts. While not a legal requirement, having a POA notarized is also recommended.
- Probate laws - Probate is a process in which a court gives a surviving spouse or another family member the authority to gather their deceased loved one's assets, pay their debts and taxes, and transfer assets to beneficiaries. The probate process is not always necessary in Virginia.
- Laws regarding wills and trusts - Wills and trusts must abide by specific laws and regulations. These laws dictate what may or may not be included in these documents, how assets may be distributed, requirements for executing the will or trust, etc.
Protecting Assets Through Estate Planning
The protection of assets is one of the main reasons why you should hire an estate planning attorney. Virginia is one of several states that allow asset protection trusts. These are especially useful for those who work in professions with high liability risks, such as doctors who are at risk for malpractice claims. Additionally, high net worth individuals should consider establishing an asset protection trust to protect their assets from creditors.
While the Virginia Tax Bureau does not assess state-level estate taxes, a Virginia estate planning lawyer at the Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC can sometimes help clients reduce their federal estate tax burden through certain estate planning measures.
Simplifying the Transfer of Assets
Individuals who handle estate planning on their own may make mistakes regarding the transfer of assets, but hiring an experienced estate planning lawyer can help ensure that assets are transferred according to your wishes. When an estate plan contains errors regarding the distribution of assets, the problem may not be discovered until after the estate owner has passed away. These errors can cause preventable complications for surviving loved ones who are attempting to claim the assets that were supposed to be left to them as part of the estate plan.
An estate planning lawyer can help craft a plan that allows for an easier transfer of assets. For instance, a lawyer may recommend using a trust to avoid the probate process and allow surviving loved ones to receive their inheritances as quickly as possible. A well-written estate plan can also help avoid disputes between family members, as the wishes of the deceased are clearly outlined and adhere to all relevant local and federal laws.
Updating an Estate Plan
The estate planning process does not end once the initial documents have been finalized. Estate plans should be viewed as living documents, as they may need to be updated based on significant life changes for the owner of the estate. An estate planning lawyer can help their client draft an estate plan and also ensure that the estate plan remains up-to-date. Estate plans should be reviewed at least every few years to determine if any important updates need to be made.
Additionally, the following major life events often require an estate plan revision:
- The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild;
- When children or grandchildren reach 18 years of age;
- Marriages and divorces;
- The death or change of circumstances regarding a guardian named in a will;
- Changes in the number of dependents;
- Purchases of real estate or other high-value assets;
- Major financial changes, such as receiving an inheritance;
- Death or circumstance changes involving executors and trustees;
- Major changes in the value of assets, such as investment accounts;
- A spouse becoming ill or incapacitated;
- Taking out a large loan or other liability;
- Career changes, such as a new job or opening/closing a business.
An experienced estate planning attorney can remain in regular contact with their clients and help them make the necessary changes to their estate plans based on these and other major life events.
Contact Our Virginia Estate Planning Lawyer For More Information
Are you wondering why you should hire an estate planning attorney? While it may not be necessary for everyone, those who have significant assets should at least consider discussing their estate planning situation with an experienced attorney. Legal guidance can help ensure that your family is taken care of after you pass away or become incapacitated and that your assets are distributed the way you want them to be. Additionally, an attorney can help avoid preventable complications involving the distribution of your assets. For more information about the legal aspects of estate planning, contact the Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC at (571) 403-2619 to speak with our Virginia estate planning attorney.