My firm specializes in estate planning and administration. I hope to give new attorneys and the public an overview of this area of practice. Please contact me with any questions. One of my favorite things about practicing in Lynchburg is the collegiality of our bar. I’ve never had an attorney turn me down when I needed to ask a question. I hope to pay that forward.
What is estate planning and administration?
These terms mean different things to different people. To me, estate planning means learning from clients how they want their estate to pass and then figuring out the best way to make that happen. Estate administration can mean helping clients navigate the probate system, advising clients on the administration of a trust, or sometimes even explaining the benefits of walking away from a problematic estate.
For estate planning, we usually discuss wills and trusts. (When discussing estate planning, we also address powers of attorney, advance medical directives, and authorizations for the disposition of remains.) Either a trust or a will can get assets to the intended beneficiaries.
When using wills, it’s likely that the probate system will be involved. Some people believe that probate should be avoided at all costs. Other people scoff at the idea of spending more money upfront on a trust. There’s plenty of middle ground. And I suppose that’s the point — everyone’s circumstances are different, and estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking.
Estate planning can include matters such as a “special needs trust” for a client who’s child receives disability benefits. Likewise, a trust can protect an inheritance for a beneficiary who has difficulty handling money.
Estate administration covers many situations. For estate administration, our involvement is usually as-needed. Some clients only need help filling out a few forms. Others would rather have us handle everything. And of course, there is lots of middle ground.
An estate planning and administration practice touches upon other areas of law. Indeed, working knowledge of real estate law is important. Most estates, whether in planning or administration, involve real estate. Other fields such as tax law, business planning, and family law, can impact an estate plan.
What’s the future of estate planning?
I suspect that estate litigation will increase, particularly with botched do-it-yourself attempts. A bad will can be worse than no will. An experienced estate planning attorney will ask the client many “what ifs.” So often clients have said to me, “I never thought about that.” Helping people understand the big picture is part of my job.
I’m excited to see how Virginia responds to COVID-19 with technology. Virginia already allows electronic notarizations. Will this jumpstart electronic wills? Probably. And if it does, will it lead to problems that we’ll need to sort out? Probably. But we need to adapt or risk getting left behind.
What’s the best part of being an estate attorney?
Clients enjoy working collaboratively with their lawyers, finding solutions to their problems. That’s not unique to estate law. But without some of the distractions that come from other areas of law, I find that estate planning can be quite rewarding, despite the recurring theme of death. There’s nothing wrong with litigation. It just isn’t for me. What an estate planning practice gives me, which I very much enjoy, is the one-on-one relationship we have with our clients. And to me, that’s what it’s all about.