Documents for Individuals and Families
Estate Planning Documents

Most Americans do not have wills, and generally do not consider them important priorities . However, most people do not know their states' intestacy laws (the automatic laws governing an estate's distribution of assets when no will is in effect). Without a will, property may be distributed to family members that the decedent (person who has died) may not have wanted the property to go to. Without any clear instructions as to who gets what property, a litigious battle may ensue over property rights.

Wills can explicitly describe who receives from the decedent's estate, and exactly what they receive. Since the creation of a will replaces the state's intestacy laws, it is important that a will be updated anytime the testator (person with a will) has a major relationship-changing event that could impact the will. For example, if the testator divorces, she may want to update her will to reflect that she does not want her ex-husband to inherit from it. Although the courts have some common sense rules to protect against unintended results, it is a safe practice to update a will after such a major event, or if the testator's interests change.

If you are interested in finding out who may inherit from you if you were to die without a will, this Nolo.com article briefly describes Intestacy Law in Virginia.

Related to wills, are trusts. Trusts enable a third-party to act as a fiduciary (person with duties and responsibilities toward another) to hold and manage assets on behalf of the trust's beneficiaries (the people who will receive something from the trust). Trusts can protect assets from estate taxes, creditors, and can be used to assure safe financial management for the beneficiaries. Depending on the assets, a trust may be a beneficial option to consider when drafting a will.

Although wills and trusts are often perceived as useful for older adults with significant assets, they can and should be maintained by young adults who wish to ensure sufficient protections for their loved ones in the event of a tragedy. Wills provide peace of mind that family members will receive what you want them to, and often assure a more streamlined judicial estate process.