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Estate Planning in Virginia: FAQs


What is an Estate?

An estate is a person’s net worth. Your estate includes all homes, properties, vehicles, bank accounts, debts, titles, licenses, etc. in your name.

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What is a Final Will & Testament?

A Final Will & Testament is a written set of legally binding instructions for the distribution of your estate when you pass. A Final Will takes legal effect at the time of your death.

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What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is a set of legally binding instructions for your family and healthcare providers. It includes which medical treatment(s) you wish to receive or not receive if you become incapacitated. Your Living Will remains in effect until your death or unless/until you intentionally revoke it.

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I’m Young and Healthy – Do I Need a Will?

Yes. A will is your peace of mind. Time is never guaranteed, and it is better to be overly prepared than not prepared at all. If you are intestate (do not have a Will in place at the time of your death), your assets may not be distributed how you had assumed.

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What Happens if I Don’t Have a Will at the Time of my Death?

State law decides who receives your estate. In Virginia a married person’s estate generally goes to the surviving spouse. However, this is not the case for people with children from a previous marriage. If a person passes with a surviving spouse and children, the surviving spouse receives 1/3 and any children from the previous marriage divide 2/3 of the estate.

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Am I Able to Make Changes to my Will After it’s Completed?

Yes. You should consult with your Virginia estate planning attorney to make the changes.

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Do I Need Witnesses for my Will?

Yes, two. Virginia law requires two competent adults to witness a Will signing.

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Does a Will in Virginia Need to be Notarized?

A notary, though not legally required, is highly recommended because if the Will is prepared with a “Self-Proving Affidavit” then a court will accept the Will and presume that it is properly executed.

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Who Should Prepare my Will?

An attorney who is experienced in Virginia estate planning. You will need someone to help you navigate the legal formalities that are required in Virginia to ensure that you have a valid will.

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What Does it Mean to be “Incapacitated” or “Incompetent”?

If you are unable to manage your own affairs, you may be deemed incapacitated or incompetent and lack legal authority over your estate. Your status may be permanent or temporary, depending on the circumstances.

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What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process by which your Will is authenticated followed by the distribution of your estate according to the instructions in your Will.

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What is a Revocable Living Trust?

A revocable living trust allows you to use and maintain control over your estate during your lifetime. The trust designates who your estate passes to at the time of your death. You may set specific conditions around who receives which assets and when they receive those assets. A “trustee” is the person you designate to administer your assets to your beneficiaries.

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What is a Durable Power of Attorney (Asset Management)?

A durable power of attorney is the written authorization designating another person (agent) to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. It is referred to as “durable” because it remains in place if you become incapacitated or disabled. You may give the agent full or limited authority.

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What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

If you become incapacitated, a medical power of attorney is a legally binding document that specifies how you wish to be cared for and who you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf.

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What is an Advance Medical Directive?

An advance medical directive is a written set of instructions for how you would like critical medical decisions to be made for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. For example, if you do not wish to be kept on life support, you may make that decision in advance.

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Why is Having a Will/Estate Plan Important?

A Will designates a trusted individual to carry out your instructions for your medical care and the distribution of your estate when you pass. This trusted individual is called an “Executor.” Establishing a Will, Living Trust, Power of Attorney and an Advance Medical Directive allows you to decide, proactively, who receives your assets, when and how your assets are distributed, and who makes decisions on your behalf regarding your medical care and finances if you are unable.

Additionally, you may reduce administrative expenses and save on taxes when you leave an estate plan behind. If you have minor children, you may designate who is to take guardianship over your minor children and how to administer your estate for their benefit should an untimely passing occur.

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How Long Does the Estate Planning “Process” Take in Virginia?

It depends on which documents you would like to prepare. Our estate planning attorneys offer free, virtual consultations and are prepared to work quickly and thoroughly.

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