Will Lawyer & Estate Planning Attorney Salem, VA

All adults who have loved ones that they want to protect should have a will and estate plan in place.  At the Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt, we help clients create effective estate plans that protect their assets and loved ones during life, and ensure that their assets will be distributed as they intend after death.

We invite you to contact our firm to learn how we can help you.  As Salem will lawyers and estate planning attorneys, we represent clients in estate planning matters on a fixed fee basis, and we accept credit card payments.

What Documents Constitute a Comprehensive Estate Plan?

A comprehensive estate plan will generally consist of the following components:

Protecting Assets and Families Before Death

  • Powers of Attorney. Powers of attorney are helpful if a person becomes severely injured or otherwise incapacitated and cannot make decisions about their care on their own, such as due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) suffered in a vehicle accident. With a Power of Attorney in place, the “Attorney-in-Fact” (the person given the power to act on behalf of the incapacitated person) can make financial, lifestyle, and other decisions for the incapacitated person in accordance with the powers set forth in the Power of Attorney document.  

Without a Power of Attorney addressing these matters, it will usually be necessary to get court approval for guardianship and/or conservatorship over the incapacitated person. Such court approval is expensive, as court oversight will often continue for the remainder of the injured person’s life.

  • Living Will/Advance Directives. A living will or advance directive sets forth a person’s wishes about the type of medical care that they wish to receive if they are suffering from a terminal event or condition and if they are unable to express their wishes for their care.  A person may wish for reasonable efforts to be made to prolong life and combat medical conditions, or a person may wish to avoid life-prolonging efforts and only be given basic care and medication to ease pain.  

With a Living Will or Advance Directive in place, a family does not need to agonize over care decisions, and can instead rely on the Living Will or Advance Directive for care and treatment instruction, and medical staff can then provide that level of care. 

  • Special Needs Trust. Special needs trusts are frequently used by parents to provide assets to care for a special needs child who will likely need significant care for the remainder of their life.  A special needs trust must be drafted carefully in order not to inadvertently cause government benefits to a special needs individual to be decreased or eliminated.  Special needs trusts are often initially funded with money or stock contributions, and later funded with life insurance proceeds following the death of a parent.

Protecting Families After Death

  • A will. A will is the instrument by which all assets of a testator (the person making the will) are distributed after death.  A will does not, however, control the distribution of some types of assets, including:
    • Amounts held in a trust. For asset distribution purposes, a trust is considered to be a separate legal entity, and all assets held in a trust are managed and distributed in accordance with the terms of the trust.
    • Life insurance proceeds. Life insurance proceeds are subject to the terms of the insurance policy.  In short, the life insurance company will pay the death benefit to the beneficiary or beneficiaries named in the policy, regardless of whether a will dictates another distribution.  It is thus important to update the beneficiary of a life insurance policy in certain instances, such as a divorce.  If this is not done, an ex-spouse may receive all the proceeds of a life insurance policy, even if a person subsequently marries someone else.
    • Pay-on-Death Accounts. “POD” accounts (typically bank accounts) are paid to the individual specified in the account documents.
  • A Trust. As a trust is considered a separate legal entity, the terms of the trust dictate what happens to the trust assets after the person making the trust dies. 

Trusts can be helpful in a number circumstances, including:

  • Making sure that children do not inherit large sums of money at a young age. Many parents with younger children want to make sure that the needs of their children are met if they should die while the children are young, while at the same making sure that the children do not have access to a large inheritance that may be spent foolishly.  A trust can be used to satisfy both of these objectives.
  • Other distributions. As another example, a person may wish to provide annual gifts of money to grandchildren after their death.  A trust could be used to effectuate these wishes.

Creating an Effective Will and Estate Plan that is Right for You and Your Family

Once we know the nature of your estate and your wishes, we can suggest and create the estate plan that will be best for you and your family.  Please call us today to learn more and to get started.