• By: Legacy Law Centers
  • Published: May 10, 2024
A real estate agent and client discuss a house model. Virginia And Tennessee Estate Plans. - Legacy Law Centers

Estate planning is the process of planning ahead for what happens to your assets and property after you pass on. But its purpose is caring for your loved ones and ensuring those you wish to benefit from your legacy can do so. This article outlines a number of vital components and principles for estate planning in Virginia and Tennessee, including:

  • The five core documents every estate plan needs in Virginia and Tennessee.
  • How to care for your minor children or those with special needs in your estate plan.
  • How often you need to update your estate planning documents.

What Important Components Should Be Part Of Every Estate Plan?

An estate plan is all about protecting your assets and being able to pass them on to your loved ones. Whether you are 18 or 118, you need an estate plan. The fundamental estate plan requires five core documents. These are needed to protect your person and your property.

To protect your person, you need a trio of healthcare protections:

  • HIPAA authorization for medical information to determine who can talk to your doctors.
  • A healthcare power of attorney determines who is allowed to make a decision regarding your care if you cannot.
  • A physician’s directive describes your wishes for various terminal illnesses or life support situations.

To protect your property, on the other hand, you need to have:

  • A durable power of attorney grants someone else the ability to control your assets and make legal decisions if you cannot.
  • A will, which enables the transfer of title for your property, assets, belongings and wealth to specific designated beneficiaries at your death.

However, wills require probate court intervention to function, which leaves your estate vulnerable, which is why alternatives or complements like trusts are often encouraged.

After all, these are just the five most fundamental and basic estate planning tools; when it comes to making a real, effective, and personalized estate plan, you need more, especially if you want to take care of children or other loved ones, like family members with special needs.

What Is A Special Needs Trust And Who Is It Intended For?

Special needs trusts are an excellent example of the kind of specialized and targeted estate planning you can set up well beyond the limited power of a will with the help of an attorney.

A special needs trust can be set up for anyone you believe needs additional financial support after you are gone. Typically, this will be for a child, relative, or loved one who is already on government assistance and/or who cannot provide for themselves.

After all, when someone is on government assistance, you do not want to give them anything directly, as it might disqualify them from federal or state assistance. Instead, because assets in the special needs trust are not held in their name but stay in the name of the trust, it allows them to receive both the gifts from your legacy and their government benefits.

But what about minor children?

What Documents Do Parents In Virginia And Tennessee Need To Protect And Provide For Minor Children?

While few parents will need to set up a special needs trust, almost all parents will need to think about what will happen to their minor children if they are no longer there to care for them.

Here, too, a trust can be a potent tool. Using a trust to leave assets or wealth to your children allows you to separate control of your assets from the nurturing and raising of your child.

First, you should place guardianship provisions in your powers of attorney document. This will nominate your choice of trusted relative or friend to care for your children if you cannot. Though they still have to be approved by the court, your nomination will steer that decision.

Now, unfortunately, if all you have is a will, the assets you leave behind to your child or children will be handed over as soon as they are 18. At that age, they might badly lack the financial experience or even just maturity to use the money wisely.

A trust, on the other hand, will allow you to determine exactly how and when your children can receive/use the funds you leave behind for them. Protecting them both from themselves and any unscrupulous parties who would take advantage of them.

How Can A Trust Protect And Guide Children As They Grow Up?

The strength of trusts as an estate planning tool lies in their flexibility; you can design them to do just about anything you want or need. This includes caring for minor children by carefully managing how and when they receive the money you leave them.

With the help of a skilled estate planning attorney, when you build a trust for underage children, you can set up a plan for every crucial stage of their development. It can have one set of provisions from ages zero to 18, another for 18 to 25, and yet a third for 29 and greater.

You can even set up different stages and different releases for how the money is controlled or released to the child, depending on their situation. This has the added benefit of placing those funds in the hands of a chosen trustee, who can be different from the children’s guardian, keeping them from the temptation of taking advantage of or mistreating your children to access their funds.

You can also change and modify your wills, revocable trusts, and any other estate planning documents as you and your children age and your circumstances change. In fact, you should regularly do so to make sure they reflect your genuine wishes.

How Often Do I Need To Review My Estate Planning Documents?

Too many people wait to make their estate plans because they do not realize that they can make changes or updates at any time. Instead of waiting, the safest option is to make your estate plan early, then simply review it or tweak it as needed as your age and circumstances change.

For example, many attorneys recommend following the rule of five: a simple conversation with your estate planning attorney every five years to make sure the estate plan meets your needs; OR, a review after one of five significant events: a birth, death, change in marital status, major change in the law, or significant change in your preferences (for example a reconciliation with an estranged family member).

Do I Need An Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Or Can I Do This On My Own?

Technically and legally, you are allowed to do all these things entirely on your own. You are also legally allowed to remove your own tooth, but generally, it is preferable to entrust such delicate operations to a professional dentist.

Estate planning is complex, impactful, and difficult to master. After all, if you make a mistake, by the time it comes to light, it will be too late to fix it because you will be dead.

If you have any desire to add specific provisions to your estate plan to care for your children or other relatives, it is a good idea to consult an attorney familiar with the art, and the laws, of estate planning in Virginia and Tennessee.

For more information on Essential Components Of An Estate Plan, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (571) 260-0827 today.

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