I Don’t Have an “Estate,” Why Do I Need a Plan?

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The term “estate planning” can be a bit of a misnomer. The term “estate” can summon images of a stately manor full of housekeepers and stables out back. The truth is that every single person has an “estate” – whether that means assets, liabilities, or dependents that rely on them for everyday care and financial support. 

So why does everyone need a plan? Oftentimes family members will disagree about what your wishes would have been, which can lead to more confusion and difficulty during an already hard time. You can use estate planning tools to prevent these problems and make transitions as smooth as possible for your loved ones. Below are some essential areas of estate planning that apply to everyone, regardless of wealth. 

Guardianship for Minor Children

Although there will still be requirements for a court proceeding, a will can designate who you want to care for your children in the event something happens to both parents. You can specifically outline your wishes for where you want your children to be raised and whether you want them versed in a particular religion. Your chosen guardians will have to petition the court and get formally appointed, but you can minimize any confusion or conflict between your loved ones by creating a specific appointment in your will. 

Naming an Executor

Families are complicated and family dynamics during stressful times can cause conflict and damage relationships.  Feuding siblings are probably the most common cause of litigation over an estate.  It’s often best to name an objective, independent representative as executor of the estate, another family member or close friend, instead of one of your children. Even if the estate is to be divided equally between siblings, giving the ultimate decision-making power to one of your children may be a recipe for disaster. An independent representative, whose only allegiance is to your wishes, will settle the estate and potential disputes fairly.

Gifting Important Personal Items 

The death of a loved one often doesn’t bring out the best in relatives, especially when it comes to heirlooms and other valuable or meaningful items owned by the deceased.  To keep family members from squabbling over, stealing, or hiding items that they want, talk with your children, grandchildren, and other family members now about which possessions mean the most to them.  Then put it in writing.  Clearly list exactly what you want to bestow on each heir and where it is kept, and attach this list to your estate planning documents.  Remember, it’s easy to challenge a “verbal” agreement in court, but much more difficult to disprove a written one.

Naming a Financial and Healthcare Power of Attorney

Having a Durable Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive in place means your loved ones won’t have to guess or argue about who should be in charge of making important decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. These documents can not only avoid conflict and confusion for your family members, but they can also mean avoiding costly and time-consuming guardianship and conservatorship proceedings through the court. 

In an Advance Healthcare Directive you can clarify your wishes regarding life-support and life-sustaining treatment, as well as your position regarding organ donation. These are areas where every individual may have a slightly different opinion, so being clear about your beliefs and wishes can provide peace of mind for those taking care of you. 

About Melone Hatley

Melone Hatley is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about estate planning, contact our Reston office today at 703.995.9900 or Virginia Beach at 757.296.0580 or reach us through our contact page


Rebecca Melone

Written By Rebecca Melone

Rebecca Melone established Melone Hatley P.C. in 2014 with the goal of helping families with a range of legal services from estate and family law to traffic tickets and misdemeanor criminal matters.
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