Estate Planning – Know Where Your Assets Are Going

There are multiple steps to creating a successful estate plan.  A large part of estate planning includes creating a will and designating a power of attorney.  A will allows a testator to bequeath property to his or her heirs, such as family members.   All of your property may be accounted for, in advance, if you delineate specific individuals or groups to receive the designated property in your will.  It is a great way to ensure that your house, real property, possessions, cash, and the like, fall into the right hands.   

There are many legal requirements to create a valid and enforceable will in the state of Virginia.  You will need a minimum of two witnesses, and you, the testator, must be competent and may need to sign the document in the presence of these individuals.   If you already created a will, but it was handwritten, an attorney can evaluate whether it will be upheld in state court; however, testimony from other individuals may be required to prove that the document is, in fact, your last will and testament. 

You might also be interested in creating a “living will,” a document that lays out instructions in the unfortunate circumstance that you become debilitated.  A living will also has its own requisites that a licensed attorney can ensure are followed.   Like a will, a “living will” may be comprised of a signed document before two witnesses, and the person signing must be competent. 

You might also indicate a “durable power of attorney” in a living will, as set out in Virginia’s Health Care Decisions Act.  An individual who holds the power of attorney may make important health decisions for you if you are no longer able to.  For example, it may affirm that you do not consent to life-sustaining procedures.

If you neglect to prepare a will, then your possessions will be at the mercy of your state’s probate law.  The court will also appoint an agent, at its own choosing and discretion, to gather your belongings and other assets, and to pay your debts.  An attorney can advise beneficiaries under the will as to whether there are any ways to avoid probate.  It would also be helpful to know the type of administration the estate calls for and whether there will be applicable estate or probate taxes.

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