A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) is a legal document a person signs directing what is to be done with property after death. Although it may be depressing to think about, a little planning can really help your family and friends later. Virginia law requires a Will to be drafted and executed in a very specific way.
Why should I have a Will and what happens if I don’t make one?
Without a Will, state law determines how your property is distributed — who gets what. A Will allows you to make different choices from the state law, and to specify how you want your property divided after your death (for example, bank accounts, cars, jewelry, or furniture). You also may name the person you trust to handle your affairs after your death. Additionally, a Will is one of the best ways to make special financial and care provisions for your children and others who depend on you.
Who should draft a Will?
A Will should be drafted by someone who is familiar with Virginia law. There are specific legal requirements for a simple Will in your own handwriting. States have different laws about Wills, so “Will kits” you might purchase online or in bookstores may create problems for your survivors. As important, your situation is different from everyone else. This is truly a case where one size does not fit everyone. Only a lawyer is qualified to give advice about writing your Will and properly signing it, so your wishes are carried out.
How do Beneficiary Designations Work?
While a Will controls the distribution of your assets at death, you can also name beneficiaries of certain assets which will control the distribution of those assets at your death instead of a Will. If you are starting a new job, you might have a retirement account or life insurance policy provided by your employer on which you can and should name the person or persons whom you desire to receive the benefits in the event of your death.
Can I tell someone what to do in case I’m severely injured and cannot speak for myself?
Yes. Under Virginia law you can execute a written Advance Medical Directive to instruct your family, physicians, and care providers about your care, including the use or termination of life-sustaining measures in certain situations. The same document can appoint a trusted family member, friend, or professional to serve as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot do so yourself. You should consult an attorney to assist you in preparing an Advance Directive.
If I am injured or living away from home for an extended period of time, can someone handle my finances and pay my bills for me?
You can make and sign a “power of attorney” that gives someone you trust, like a parent or friend, the power to do business-related things on your behalf, such as deposit or withdraw money from your bank accounts, call the insurance company on your behalf to discuss a claim, or sign contracts and leases that have your name on them. This power of attorney can be limited or very broad, and you can revoke it at any time. Most important, a properly drafted document can be especially useful in the event you become disabled or incompetent and need help. An attorney can help you understand the uses and possible limitations of a power of attorney when preparing this document.