ESTATE PLANNING — PLAIN & SIMPLE

What exactly is estate planning?

Contrary to the belief of many, estate planning is more than just the preparation of “simple wills.”  Trying not to sound too much like a lawyer, and without unnecessarily boring the reader with legal “mumbo jumbo,” estate planning is actually a PROCESS, one requiring the analysis and possible adjustment of a person’s accumulation and distribution of property.  In simpler terms, an estate planner makes sure that a person leaves the maximum amount of his or her property to or for the benefit of desired persons, usually a spouse and children.

We provide a series of professional services to individuals and business entities in connection with estate planning. These include, but are not limited to:

Estate planning does not have to be expensive.

If you don’t think you can afford a complex estate plan now, start with what you can afford and gain a PEACE OF MIND knowing we will be there for guidance and future services.

The best time to plan your estate is NOW — So please, help us help you and call us today!


 

Before diving headfirst into the issues involved in the estate planning process, we must first discuss a couple of overriding factors involved in estate planning.

Just the facts.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of gathering a client’s facts. Fact gathering is probably the most important phase of the estate planning process.  The reason is simple.  The quality of a client’s estate plan necessarily depends on the adequacy and accuracy of the facts on which the plan is based.  How precise can an estate plan be if the facts on which it is based are inaccurate or insufficient?

Many people assume that the only information needed by an estate planner is the client’s full name, residence address, and the identity of the persons to whom the client’s property will be distributed. In reality, this is rarely the case.  In order to properly advise a client, an estate planner must first assemble a client’s various business and financial data, and also attempt to comprehend the client’s personal and financial goals.  This may be accomplished to some degree by the client’s completing an estate planning “questionnaire.”  Nevertheless, no estate plan should be completed without the client’s meeting with the estate planner face-to-face.  This affords the estate planner the opportunity to gather any previously undisclosed information, to accurately assess the client’s personal and financial objectives, and to discuss complex or sensitive issues.  Let’s face it, some things are better described face-to-face and not over the phone or in some questionnaire.

The Probate Process.

Any person, unless penniless, at death owns property which he or she wishes to pass to specified individuals. However, a person typically also has creditors, who of course want to get paid.  Virginia has a vested interest in making sure that a person’s property is distributed according to his or her wishes, but Virginia also has a vested interest in making sure that creditors will be satisfied prior to distribution.  In order to oversee the administration of a person’s estate to make sure that a person’s creditors are satisfied and that the remaining assets are distributed in accordance with a person’s wishes, Virginia has established an administration procedure referred to as “PROBATE.”

  1. The initial step in the probate process is the admission of the will to “probate” in the county or city courthouse. The clerk reviews each document purported to be a deceased person’s will.  If the clerk concludes that it was properly signed and witnessed as required by Virginia law, the document is accepted as the deceased person’s last will and admitted to record, and is thereafter open to public inspection.  As can be expected, the clerk also collects a probate tax (not an estate tax) based on the value of the assets owned by the decedent at death and passing under the will.
  2. Next, someone must be appointed to administer the deceased person’s estate. This person is the executor.   Generally, the executor is responsible for compiling and safeguarding the decedent’s assets, ascertaining the decedent’s liabilities and satisfying those that are appropriate, and distributing the remaining assets, if any, in accordance with the will and as permitted by Virginia’s probate procedures.
  3. The executor must thereafter submit to the commissioner accountings reflecting the receipts of and disbursements from the estate.  The executor files these accounting on an annual basis until all parties are paid their proper share of the estate and the estate administration is completed.

Estate Planning is not a “One-shot Deal”.

Remember, estate planning is an ongoing process, and does not end with a person’s signing of his or her estate planning documents.

Due to the appreciation of assets or an unexpected increase in wealth, a person may ultimately experience an estate tax liability which had previously been addressed but dismissed.  Or, very possibly, the laws may change so that the original documents are no longer valid or so that the interpretation of the documents has changed.  Or, quite simply, a person may change his or her mind as to who will receive property at his or her death.  One must always remember that, unless expressly provided, each estate planning document may be amended, added to, or even revoked, as frequently as desired.  Therefore, each person should make every attempt to review his or her financial position and estate plan documents every three to five years in order to take into account possible changes in circumstances.

 


We hope that the above discussion has brought to light many of the issues which must be addressed in the estate planning process. It is intended for informational purposes only and to assist a client in his or her general understanding of the estate planning process. We do not intend for this to be an exhaustive discussion of all issues involved.  Nor do we intend for this information to be a substitute for legal advice.  However, if you have any questions about any of the above information, or if you need additional assistance with your estate planning, please feel free to contact us.