Most likely you have heard about the nasty inheritance battles between family members of deceased celebrities. Robin Williams comes to mind. However, these fights aren’t limited to the rich and famous.
Probate is the court process that validates a Will. If there is no Will, the estate will be distributed according to Virginia law.
Many times families come to us knowing little about probate or after they have already started the process. They are startled at how complicated, long and expensive it can be without proper guidance and information.
Getting Less than You Think
For example, recently when a husband passed away with no Will, his wife of more than 20 years hired our firm to guide her through probate. She was shocked to learn that she was only allowed one-third of the estate because there is a child from her husband’s previous marriage.
In another case, the executor of the estate, the person who works with the Commissioner of Accounts to ensure the distribution of assets, did not get along with the beneficiaries. We became the mediator during this unnecessarily difficult process. In the end, the beneficiaries felt cheated because they didn’t have control and didn’t like that the executor had taken a fee from the estate (limited by statute in Virginia) for the service.
The best way to prepare for this trying time in your life is to make your intentions clear and legally binding. You can start by communicating your desires to your loved ones and making sure your legal documents are in order and up to date, such as your Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney.
There are also some legal strategies that can help you avoid probate in Virginia:
Simplified Procedure: If your estate is valued at $50,000 or less, a beneficiary can file a small estate affidavit.
Payable-on-death and transfer-on-death: If you have designated accounts as payable-on-death or as transfer-on-death, your beneficiaries can claim these assets upon your death without probate.
Living trusts: Any assets that are titled to your trust are controlled by the trust terms and distributed to beneficiaries without going through probate. Proper re-titling of your assets that go into your trust name is essential.
Joint ownership: If you own property with another person, and this ownership includes the “right of survivorship” language, then the surviving owner automatically owns the property when the other owner dies.
To further your estate planning goals, we are launching our “Coffee with Donna” series of Estate Planning & Elder Law workshops. Plan to attend and bring peace of mind to your loved ones!
Please contact us directly if we can answer questions or be of service.