Northern Virginia Trusts Attorneys Offer Comprehensive Estate Planning Services

Extensive experience helping Virginia families create a plan to fit your needs

It is important to have confidence that your estate plan will successfully accomplish your goals. You have worked hard to build wealth during your lifetime, and you deserve to have it handled in accordance with your wishes. Drafting the right will and trust for you is an essential part of the estate planning process. At Altman and Associates, we focus solely on estate planning and take our responsibility to clients seriously. We are dedicated to walking you through your options and ensuring we create a plan that is best for your personal situation. We have more than 40 years combined experience helping individuals and families in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia.

What is a living trust, and are there any tax benefits?

The primary benefit of a trust is to avoid a complicated and expensive probate process. A living trust simply means that it is created while you are living, rather than coming into existence as a result of your death. You can name yourself as the “trustee” while you are living, meaning you still retain control over the assets you have placed in your trust.

The amount of taxes your beneficiaries will owe depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The size of the estate
  • The location of the assets
  • The structure of the trust
  • How ownership of the property is structured (Ex: is your home owned in joint tenancy with a spouse?)

Each individual situation is unique, and it is important that you walk through your assets with a competent, local estate planning attorney so you fully understand your future tax liabilities. We have more than 40 years of combined experience helping clients evaluate their estate and creating trusts for them, when appropriate. We find that knowing the legal landscape and having a plan in place gives our clients peace of mind as they approach the future.

If I have a trust, do I need a will?

In short, yes. There are several reasons you should have a will, including:

  • In cases where there is a trust, sometimes not all of your property makes it into the trust. What’s known as a “pour-over will” can ensure left over property makes it into the will. Or, if there is property that you intentionally leave out of your trust, you can use the will to provide instructions on how you would like it to be handled.
  • If you don’t have a will or trust documents, your estate will be handled according to Virginia law and distributed to your closest relatives – possibly not as you intended.

The complexity of wills can range from very simple to incredibly lengthy and detailed, depending your desires and estate plan. What is most important is that it is done right to ensure your wishes are met and an easy administrative process for your heirs. A will contest can add time and money to the administration process, and sometimes lead to lasting rifts within families. We know each person and family has different needs. We take the time to get to know your estate planning goals so we can craft a personalized, comprehensive plan that works for you and accurately accomplishes your wishes.

Trust our skilled Northern Virginia estate planning attorneys

The award-winning Northern Virginia estate planning attorneys at Altman and Associates are happy to help individuals and families in Northern Virginia with all your estate planning goals. Professionalism and integrity are essential to our practice, and we are committed to providing the highest quality of service to our clients. Call us at 301- 468-3220 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Virginia Will and Trust Planning Attorney | Personalized Estate Guidance

will and trust planning attorney

Understanding Your Will and Trust Planning Options and Protecting You and Your Family’s Future

It goes without say that will and trust planning for death can be very difficult.  Simply bringing up the subject of death can trigger feelings of denial and avoidance.

That being said, a carefully guided and effective estate plan, as expressed through legal documents such as wills and trusts, can secure your legacy and save your family a great deal of difficulty in the long-run.

At Altman & Associates, our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to craft individual solutions for you and your family.

Will vs Trust

will vs trust

The Difference Between a Will and a Trust

Even if you have not had exposure to them, most people have heard about wills and trusts. A will and a trust might look similar and have similar terms, however, they are functionally very different documents which, ideally, can work together for your benefit:

Will

In simple terms, a will is a written document—signed and witnessed—that indicates how your property will be distributed at the time of your death. It is revocable and subject to amendment at any time during your lifetime. It also allows you to appoint a guardian for your minor children.

A will, more technically defined, is a “writing” in which a grantor (creator of the will) expresses some terms which should take effect at the time of his or her death. Under Maryland Law, a valid will must be signed by the grantor (or someone acting in the grantor’s presence and on his or her behalf), and must be attested to and signed by two or more credible witnesses.

A key aspect of a will is that it really does not take effect until the grantor dies. A will creates an estate which distributes property known as probate assets, and appoints a Personal Representative to do so. The Personal Representative then goes through Probate Court to ensure that the probate assets are distributed consistent with the terms of the Will.

Absent a Will, probate assets are distributed by a Probate Court through “intestate succession” – a series of laws which distributes these assets to your family in a particular order. Also, a Will can contain critical information regarding your health decisions, and care of your children or pets after your death.

Trust

In simple terms, a living trust provides lifetime and after-death property management. If you are serving as your own trustee, the trust instrument will provide for a successor upon your death or incapacity. Court intervention is not required.

Livings trusts also are used to manage property. If a person is disabled by accident or illness, the successor trustee can manage the trust property. As a result, the expense, publicity, and inconvenience of court-supervised distribution of your estate can be avoided.

A living trust, more technically defined, is a document and a legal designation created during the life of the Settlor (creator) of the trust. The trust is a direct reflection of the grantor(s). Like a will, a trust will indicate the wishes of the Settlor(s). But critically, the provisions of a trust can be effective as soon as it is executed, not necessarily upon the death of the Settlor(s). In fact, most trusts can be used if the Settlor becomes incapacitated.

In addition, couples and families can create trusts. Therefore, a Settlor can name his or herself the initial Trustee (decision-maker for the trust) and begin placing property and assets in the name of the trust. Property and assets in the name of the trust are not probate assets and do not have to go through Probate Court upon the death of the Settlor.

Instead, a successor Trustee is designated in the Trust. This successor Trustee is appointed upon the death or serious disability of the initial Trustee and/or Settlor in order to provide for their care or administer their estate. In all cases, the Trustee must follow the terms of the trust document, including giving distributions to trust Beneficiaries.

Wills Are Essential Estate Planning Documents

The first and most essential step in an estate plan is drafting a will. If there is no written, verified expression of your wishes in the event of your death, then state law will decide what becomes of your legacy. Our team believes that every individual’s story and circumstances are unique. You have concerns and preferences which should be protected after you pass away. Here is small sampling of the myriad of subjects your will can address:

  • The future care of your minor or disabled child.
  • Distributions of your monetary assets and personal property.
  • Transfers of title to real property, such as your home.
  • Limitations on the transfer of assets based upon family concerns.
  • Gifts to beloved institutions or charities.
  • Funeral services and/or burial instructions.

Virginia Wills Must Be Updated

There are an innumerable amount of good reasons to have a will. Even if you currently have a will, many common life events will require you to amend your current will. As our founding attorney, Gary Altman, often says, “Having an outdated will can be as risky as having no will at all.”  Here a just a few reasons to consider having your will amended or redrafted:

  • You recently were married or went through a divorce.
  • You are now widowed.
  • You have a new child, or your children are no longer minors.
  • You are now part of a unique or blended family.
  • You have acquired a significant asset or inheritance.
  • Your wishes, as expressed through your current will, have changed.

Trusts Can Facilitate a Smooth, Effective Estate Plan

Trusts allow you to protect your assets and property from going through Probate Court at the time of your death. If your assets are already in the name of your trust, then the assets need not transition ownership or title at the time or your death. Moreover, a Settlor can personalize a trust so that its impact is felt over time.

For instance, a trust can provide that real property be sold or that proceeds from income producing assets be distributed in specific ways. In short, the Settlor of a trust can guide the actions of a Trustee through the trust documents, even after the Settlor is gone.

This allows the Settlor to set up special provisions or conditions for particular trust Beneficiaries which do not stop once the probate process is over. By avoiding probate and spreading out Beneficiary distributions over time, the Beneficiaries can also benefit by paying less court fees and taxes.

Revocable Trusts

revocable trust attorneyChanging or Revoke Your Will or Trust

Revoking or amending a will is relatively easy and may be done for any reason at any time. Maryland law, for example, lists a number of ways to revoke a will. This includes such extreme measures as tearing or burning a will, but it is advisable to keep a copy of revoked will. In some states, a will which includes a former spouse is considered revoked once a divorce is final.

Revoking or amending a trust depends on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. Most trusts start out as revocable trusts so that terms may be easily amended. In most states, trusts are irrevocable once the Settlor passes away.  However, an irrevocable trust can sometimes be reformed or amended depending on many factors, including trust agreement terms, length of irrevocability, identity of current and remainder beneficiaries, and governing laws.

An irrevocable trust that no longer makes practical or economic sense is a prime target for change; however, despite a trust’s shortcomings, it may be impossible to change. Sometimes, the best option may be to terminate the trust altogether and distribute what’s left to the beneficiaries.

Get Answers to Your Questions Regarding Wills and Trusts

If you have questions regarding the creation or modification of wills and/or trusts, please call us to discuss your options.  We have been helping clients with wills and trusts for more than 20 years, and have the skills and compassion to help you successfully plan for the future. We have convenient office locations in Columbia, Rockville, D.C. and Northern Virginia. To schedule a consultation, call us (301) 468-3220.