On The Law: Estate plans and wills

by | May 14, 2018 | Fannin Law, Partners

From Brian Fannin, Fannin Law PLLC
A Fredericksburg Today Partner

There’s no easy way to say it—though others have tried: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” started John Donne, later intercepted in the collective unconscious of literature students by Ernest Hemingway. “I heard a fly buzz” began Miss Emily Dickinson, before getting right to the point. Sergeant Major Dan Daly, frustrated at his Marines’ pace in Belleau Wood, uttered the famous encouragement “C’mon you Sons of Bitches, Do You Want to Live Forever?”
To which of course the urge is “YES!” in more normal times, and so the difficulty of the subject of death. It is important that we bring it up though, since in the absence of some thought and effort we will die without benefit of having our last will and testament in place. Even worse, we could find ourselves comatose without a medical directive or power-of-attorney ready and have the life we wanted preserved clicked off like a machine (or be kept “alive” mechanically long after all possibility of a meaningful life has been extinguished).
Crafting a good estate plan means considering all of these things, and more. If you own property, is it all titled in your name? Jointly with your spouse? How about jointly with your former spouse? How does your current spouse feel about that? Doing the hard work of looking at your existing estate plan may help you streamline and fix a lot of things about your life while you’ve still got it, let alone after you’ve left the worldly things behind.
There are some who prefer to let others take care of the details, and that’s understandable. Our elected representatives in Richmond and Washington so distinguish themselves, time and time again, with their Solomonic wisdom that it’s easy to let your worldly goods follow the intestate rules written by our politicians and changed every several decades as trends differ. Take remarriage: in the 1980s, a stepparent would have been ignored under intestate rules most of the time. For the last two decades, a stepparent might have received 1/3rd of an estate, to the 2/3rd portion divided by the children of the previous marriage. Nowadays, a long-standing second marriage can erase the rights of children from a previous marriage outright. Unless you form a plan with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the current trends in estate planning and administration law.
A lawyer can help you get the wording right, so that your last will—literally, the last thing you do on this earth—is what you want it to be, and it helps who you want it to help, the people you love most. There might be tax benefits, there might be ways to avoid probate, but it really all comes down to doing what you want, one last time. In that way, it’s the very essence of being an American.
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” elegized Walt Whitman on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Ambrose Bierce, who’d served in Abraham’s Army until the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain retired him, defined “Incompossible” as an adjective explaining “Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both – as Walt Whitman’s poetry and God’s mercy to man.” We the people disagree, we reach different conclusions, and it is handy that we have the means of final expression at hand to make one last effort at defining the self—recording our last will.
If it’s time to review or renew your estate planning documents, contact an attorney and have it done right.

Brian Fannin

Fannin Law PLLC is available for consultations by calling 540.371.5300 or emailing [email protected].


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