Some people seem to have the impression that estate planning is only for the very wealthy. Everyone has an “estate”, no matter how humble it may be–and there is no place like home and no one more important than your loved ones. No matter who you are, a well drafted estate plan is a gift to your family.

Although the increase in the estate tax exemption in the American Tax Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”) was raised dramatically to $5.34 million (with portable exemptions for married people), estate planning should still take place. It does not have to be complicated but it is always important.

Most people just need a simple will, a durable financial power of attorney and an advanced medical directive with the appointment of a health care agent. Virginia probate is not onerous but it is a public proceeding. Not all wills are the same and there are times, especially in these days of blended families that a revocable living trust is more appropriate and effective. There are also trusts which can be written within wills, (testamentary trusts) which take effect upon death.

There are several strategies to choose from to ensure assets are distributed according to specific desires in a timely fashion. One size does not fit all. The right strategy depends on your individual circumstances and having an attorney who takes time to listen and truly care. I enjoy my consultations because they are not about death but about life. People tell me about their children and grandchildren and their hopes and aspirations for them. It humbles me to play a small part in making those aspirations come true. There may also be specific items of personal property which one wishes to assure goes to specific people and there may be non-profit organizations which are of importance to people. If someone wanted to have an impact and express his or her values during life, charitable trusts are an effective way to see to it that such positive effects continue after the person has passed on.

Estate planning for business owners does not involve only the usual wills and trusts but the business documents as well. The estate documents should be harmonious with business documentation which can effect the succession of business property and interests.

Not one size fits all. Each one of us is unique and special. With careful planning we can make certain those attributes are remembered and that which is important to us will continue to be cared for after we can no longer be here in person.

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