The short answer to the question is no. Estate planning is very much different from writing a will, though a will can be used as a tool to manage your estate.
An estate is your property and assets, including any land you own, bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks, and personal property, such as your jewelry, your books, or your clothing. Estate planning is the process of determining what happens to your property and assets after you die or become incapacitated.
Having an estate plan is something people don’t really think about, in part because it’s generally uncomfortable to ask questions about what happens to your property or your family after you pass. But having a plan in place to care for your loved ones, your young children or making sure that your assets are distributed and used the way you want is important not just to your family, but also for your legacy.
In determining what sort of estate plan is right for you, you should consider the size of your family and the ages of your family members, how large your estate is, whether privacy is important for you, whether you have family members with special needs that require special consideration, or even whether you’d like any of your assets to go to a charity after you die. Working with a knowledgeable Fairfax estate planning attorney can help you ensure a smooth transition for your family.
While there are many aspects to estate planning, common and crucial tools used in estate plans are wills and trusts.
A will is a legal document that specifies how an individual wants his or her estate to be distributed upon that person’s death and who that individual wants to distribute his or her estate (the executor). You can also name guardians for children or instruct how debts and taxes should be paid.
Upon a person’s passing, a will is submitted to probate, which is a court-proceeding where the property of the person who passed (the decedent) is distributed, debts are paid off, and any other provisions in the will are addressed. When your will is submitted to probate, it becomes a public document. It is important to note that just because you have a will, it does not mean you will be able to avoid probate.
In Virginia, there is no special probate court, and the process of probate is handled in the circuit court of the city or county where the decedent lived. If you were to die without a will (intestate) or without an estate plan, then the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia would determine who your heirs are and thus determine who would receive your property.
With or without a will, the probate process can be long and expensive, taking up to 24 months and costing potentially thousands of dollars in court filing fees and accounting expenses.
A trust is a document that specifies how the property held by one person (the trustee) is for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). Trusts can be created during an individual’s life or after his or her passing. Property passed through trusts do not go through probate, which means the costs and expenses of probate can be avoided and your trust documents will remain private.
Trusts may also be revocable, meaning you can easily change the document as you please, though this is also a relatively simple process with wills. However, unlike a will, you cannot name guardians for your children or instruct how debts or taxes should be paid. Also, trusts are not as simple to create as wills. They are not complex by law, but because a trust takes into account the trustee’s duties, any conditions for the beneficiary, or other provisions you want to consider, it’s best to work with an estate planning attorney to make sure your trust is crafted to ensure your needs and wants are properly addressed.
Thinking about what happens to your estate after you pass or become incapacitated can be overwhelming. It is important to work closely with an estate planning lawyer who will understand your personalized needs and can create a will or trust that best fits your desires. If you live in the Fairfax, Virginia area, you should contact an estate planning attorney to help you see the forest through the trees.
Contact Fairfax estate planning attorney Rhonda Miller today to learn more about what estate plan is best for you and how I can help.