WARNING/ATTENTION: This is all GENERAL INFORMATION and should be relied upon as reference material ONLY. Nothing on this site (or anything else on the internet, self help books, or advice of your friends, neighbors, or relatives) can substitute for the legal advice of an attrorney AFTER discussing your particular situation. Attempting to cobble together an estate plan from the advice below, or provide elder care services "on your own" is a recipie for disaster.
Q: What the heck is estate planning? A: Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging, during a person's life, for the management and disposal of that person's estate during the person's life and at and after death, while minimizing gift, estate, generation skipping transfer, and income tax. Estate planning includes planning for incapacity as well as a process of reducing or eliminating uncertainties over the administration of a probate and maximizing the value of the estate by reducing taxes and other expenses. The ultimate goal of estate planning can be determined by the specific goals of the client, and may be as simple or complex as the client's needs dictate. Guardians are often designated for minor children and beneficiaries in incapacity. The law of estate planning overlaps to some degree with elder law, which additionally includes other provisions such as long-term care.
Q: Do I need a lot of assets, a home, and a bunch of money lying around to have an estate plan? A: NO. Everyone over the age of 18 should at least have a will and some various powers of attorney. As your "estate" grows, your estate plan changes and grows, too, but there is no "minimum".
Q: If I die without a Will, does the State of Virginia get everything? A: No, but the laws of intestacy may result in your estate going to persons that you may not want to inherit your property. Q: Doesn’t my spouse automatically receive everything I own at my death? A: Not necessarily. It depends on how your assets are titled, whether you have children from a prior marriage and other contractual agreements.
Q: A trust? That's only for super rich people with sheltered lives, right? A: NO. A trust can be the appropriate estate planning tool for many people in all different socio economic classes. Q: Should I have a Trust? A: Possibly! There are several different types of Trusts. Whether you need a Trust depends on whether you have a beneficiary with special needs, whether you have an estate beyond a certain size or whether you own property in more than one state. However, each person’s situation must be evaluated to determine whether a Trust is an appropriate estate planning tool.
Powers of Attorney
Q: Is this a real thing? Doesn't this mean that I am giving up all say so in my affairs (medically or financially, or both) while I am still alive? A1: Yes, a Power of Attorney is a real thing. A2: No, a Power of Attorney does not mean that other people get to make all your decisions for you without your input. A3: The various types of Powers of Attorney help people manage your affairs while you are incapacitated but still living. They are all set up with your input and restrictions that you want! A4: Check out this article on WIKIPEDIA. Then give us a call to discuss if you would like to have a POA.
If you dont have a will
Q: Should I panic, if I don't have a will? Are my assets protected? Is my family safe? A: Something like 50% of adults in America have no will. You don't have to panic, but you do need to "get it done" and be proactive with your estate planning. Again, if you die with no will, the Commonwealth (Virginia is not technically a State!) has provided for the orderly administration of your affairs (through the intestate administration process). Your spouse and children won't be left out in the cold. But the intestate administration process means you have ZERO say in how people are provided for. Why leave it to chance?
Q: Do I need to be elderly to worry about elder care and elder law? A: NO. Please consider this summary page here, on findlaw.com. Then think about this: this law firm exists to help people avoid having problems when they are elderly. We want to take care of pre-planning as much/as many of your future care needs NOW, so that they are not unsurmountable problems later on in life.
More things to think about...
Taking Time in the Present to Think About the Future
When you think about your future, it probably looks a little something like this – you work hard, take care of your family, save money, and dream about retiring surrounded by your loved ones. We usually plan for our future thinking that we will be a part of it, but it can be easy to forget one major detail: how does one plan for the unexpected? None of us want to think about the worst happening to us, or someone we love, but if you want to protect yourself, your family, and your legacy in the way you intended, comprehensive estate planning is essential. Comprehensive estate planning can address your assets, your family, and other various issues through the following legal documents.
A Will is a document that specifies who should inherit your property, including money and items of personal property, following your death. A Will can also designate a guardian for your minor children to provide who will take care of them in your absence. A well-drafted Will should answer all of the questions about what happens to everything you own, at your death. When someone dies without a Will, Virginia designates the deceased as intestate. This means a person passed away without a valid Will; it can also apply when all of the decedent’s property has not been effectively distributed by the Will. When a Virginia resident dies intestate, their estate will be divided by statute. For a married person, the division is between their spouse and children. If the deceased does not have a spouse or children, then the estate is divided between their nearest living relatives. All of this is mandated by statute. This may result in someone receiving property that you did not intend, or unintentionally leaving out someone you did want to inherit your property. For those with minor children, another important reason to have a Will is to ensure that children are personally and financially cared for. This can be especially critical for single parents, who may want someone other than the biological parent or a relative to have custody of their child, and same-sex couples to have a plan in place in case they become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly. Not having a Will can result in extra turmoil and grief for your family, and it can result in prolonged litigation and fighting in the court system, tying up your property in the courts instead of it going to the loved ones you intended. The strategic thing to do as you are planning for the future is to also plan for what happens after you are no longer here. A Will can ensure that all of your hard-earned assets are properly distributed and the care of your children adequately addressed.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint someone to represent you in your financial affairs. This document is most useful if you have business and property interests. A Power of Attorney is only effective until you become physically disabled or mentally incompetent. It allows someone to assist you in financial affairs, such as paying your bills, or in business or real estate affairs, such as selling property. This document is important if you have a business interest and are unable to attend to it because you are out of the country or state or are temporarily unavailable to sign necessary documents. This document will allow your designated person to fulfill any financial obligations as you so specifically direct.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint an agent to represent you in financial matters, such as handling your bank accounts and filing and signing tax returns. A Durable Power of Attorney provides additional protection by ensuring that even if you become incapacitated; your agent will still have the authority to manage your financial affairs on your behalf, like paying bills, dealing with property, and filing taxes. This ensures that your financial affairs are protected in the event you cannot attend to them yourself. If you become incapacitated, not having a durable power of attorney will require a court proceeding to have a guardian appointed for you to manage your financial affairs. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, and can result in someone you would not have chosen yourself handling your finances.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to give control of health-related decisions to someone you trust in the event you can no longer make those decisions for yourself. This document can be extremely important for unmarried couples, people who may be estranged from their families, or same-sex couples. Historically, there have been cases where loved ones were denied access to their significant other because they were unmarried or the family did not approve of their relationship. This document can prevent any unnecessary hurt and confusion and allows the person you trust the most to have access to you to make those important health-related decisions when you cannot.
This is different than a general Will. A Will is a plan for your property and possessions after you die, a Living Will is a legally binding plan for your medical treatment preferences, should you become unable to make those decisions yourself. A Living Will can specify what medical procedures, or interventions serving to prolong the dying process, you are willing to consider. A Living Will requires you to identify what life saving treatments you do not want. For example, if you have decided that you do not want treatment care such as nutrition and hydration necessary for pain alleviation and comfort care, your living will must specifically state this. If your living will does not specifically address these issues, nutrition and hydration necessary for comfort care and pain alleviation will be provided.
At the end of the day, none of us want to think about the unexpected happening. However, having the peace of mind that your loved ones, your property, your financial affairs, and your health and best interests will be looked after should the worst happen needs to be a priority when you’re planning for your future. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you put the proper documents in place now so that you, and your loved ones, can enjoy your future.
A Few More Things...
The Sodoma Law PLLC difference...
Most of the time, your visit to a lawyer in order to handle your estate plan (whether a simple will or something more complex) would go something like this. You'd find a lawyer on the web or have one recommended to you by a friend. Hopefully the lawyer would specialize in the area you were looking for help in. You'll have to schedule an office visit, sign a bunch of paperwork, talk to the lawyer about things that the lawyer will overcomplicate (or you won't understand), and then probably go home with a huge file of "homework" that will need to be completed. Then, another face to face meeting (most likely several weeks later) where you bring all the "homework" with you. You talk for hours to the lawyer and hopefully leave the office with a bit more understanding of what you are paying them thousands of dollars for--but maybe not. Then the lawyer takes weeks to build your estate plan, hopefully while keeping you updated on what is happening--but maybe not. Then another face to face meeting in order to review the documents that have been prepared. Maybe you can take things home at this point, maybe not. In the end you have spent hours of preparation making an estate plan with a lawyer who has spent hours and hours of time preparing the estate plan. Then there are all the signatures, notarization, and general work to finalize everything. After that, you go home and have a huge binder on your shelf, never to be looked at again, until the day you pass away.
Some of the time, certainly increasingly these days, you go online, download some cheap or free paperwork, and make your own will. Or you write up your own document and think "this isn't so hard" and that you can "do it all yourself". Then, having done that, you meet a special someone, get engaged, get married, have some kids, move all over the country, buy and sell property, houses, household goods, and vehicles, and wind up retired in Virginia with family scattered all over the country. Not only have your circumstances changed, but your entire life has changed. Old friends are no longer close, and you have made new friends. And then you pass away. Everything you wrote yourself is no longer applicable to your situation at the time of your death. And then the homemade will gets challenged by a 2nd cousin, thrice removed. Uh oh!
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR WILL IS INVALID?
If you leave no Will or your Will is declared invalid because it was improperly prepared or is not admissible to probate:
1. The procedure to distribute assets becomes more complicated. It will require all of the children to select someone to be the Administrator, or if there are no children, someone else must qualify. 2. Additional expenses will be incurred and extra work will be required to qualify an administrator-Surety Bond, additional costs often over $1,000 and extra legal fees. 3. State law determines who gets assets, not you. People who dislike you or don’t care about you can get your assets 4. If you have no spouse or close relatives the Commonwealth may take your property. Most people who rather have charities or friends get their money. 5. It often causes fights and stress within your family and sometimes lawsuits. 6. If there are minor children a Judge determines who gets custody the kids. 7. You lose the opportunity to reduce State inheritance taxes and Federal estate taxes without improper planning
When loved ones are grieving and dealing with death, they shouldn’t be overwhelmed with Financial concerns and estate problems if there is no Will or not prepared or signed properly.
HOW IS SODOMA LAW PLLC DIFFERENT?
Sodoma Law PLLC focuses on just a few different areas of the law to the benefit of our clients. Wills, trusts, estate planning, and elder law are our only areas of practice. We keep up with the multitude of laws, rules, regulations, and various changes to this entire subset of the law. And we apply our knowledge to help you! We dont do criminal defense or a bunch of other types of law unrelated to our main mission.
In the two situations above, time serves to change all things. An estate plan can suit your needs and financial situation today, and be completely outmoded tomorrow. Things happen in our lives that change our situations--from asset ownership changes to living arrangements, from beneficiaries to marital status--you name it, we can plan for it. We want to be life-long partners in service to you, as you grow older and things change. We believe an estate plan is like a plant. It needs attention to thrive, or it will die of neglect--and a estate plan that hasn't kept up with your life is no good to anyone!
While we recognize that no two clients are the same, we did want to explain a process that we can follow, with your help, to ensure that you are served well. Here is what we strive to do:
1. You send me an email or call me. 2. I send you back an email to find out more about your needs, or call you back to talk to you. 3. You decide you wish to engage my services. 4. I send you, in email, an engagement letter that tells you what I am doing for you and lays out the price for that type of service or package of services. 5. You read and sign that engagement letter, and return it to me, electronically if possible. 6. I send you an electronic form in which all assets, debts, liabilities and concerns that you may have are listed--this form may be filled out/returned electronically or by printing it and filling out/returning by mail. 7. There is no rush to send the form back the next day, but it should take no more than a couple weeks to get this task completed. 8. You also should send me (via paper copy or electronically) whatever you have now for a will or other estate plan. 9. I take all the input received from you and review it upon intake, and ask any clarification questions that I may have of you. 10. I write all documents and send drafts to you electronically. 11. You review, mark up, return to me with any changes, electronically or via printed copy. 12. I prepare the final documents. 13. I return everything in finalized form to you. If good, you accept documents. 14. Everything must be executed in a ceremony attended by witnesses and a notary. 15. Everything is now part of your official estate plan. 16. I bill you for services rendered. 17. You pay the outstanding bill within 20 days of receipt.
Again--one size DOES NOT fit all with this type of planning. We will work with you, not against you. I can use as much or as little technology as you are comfortable with. Give us a call today, or shoot us an email. We will contact you within 24 hours to start the ball rolling.
We will be happy to meet with you in person at any and every stage in our relationship. We are dedicated to serving our customers with a personal touch. If you would like to meet to discuss things, that is totally fine, and we can meet when and where you would like. However, if you are comfortable with it, we can use the latest, most secure methods of electronic communication. This includes teleconferencing, videoconferencing, electronic mail/file transfer. Important to note: you dont have to live in Virginia Beach to get good service from our firm--we serve ALL of Virginia Our firm uses all mandated and/or appropriate protections to ensure customer information is secure and protected. Emails are all encrypted. Electronic forms are protected. Our firms computers are hardened by use of VPNs, extra complicated passwords, and the latest antivirus/malware protection. And we do NOT allow exploitation of our hardware or software by social engineering hackers. Why do we try to utilize technology to serve our clients? Simple--we can serve more clients at a lower cost by utilizing technology, and this means a lower cost for you when making your estate plan. There is no reason we need to charge you massive amounts of money to pay for shelves full of books (that are never read) in a posh office (that is never used) with fake plants and a view of a lake. We respect you too much for all that!