Estate Planning

Trusted, Personalized Estate Planning Services

We honestly guide individuals and their families with estate planning that protects their assets from unforeseen events Virginia Estate Planning Attorneyas well as overbearing taxation and costs.  We outline strategies, each week with our clients, to protect themselves, their assets, and their heirs.  It is very rewarding to guide our client-members in this moment of reflection and long-term planning.

Each client, their children, and extended family bring a unique story and set of issues to think through during our initial planning session.  Most love all of their children, but know a certain sibling needs to be the decision-maker when the time comes.  Designating that individual now, may remove conflict or stress from the family later.

Still others, need guardians and agents established in the event they become incapacitated--unable to properly care for themselves--and desire to select who that will be, empowering them now, so they can avoid costly court procedures later.

Other couples come to meet with us with blended families that require more detailed articulation in the division of property.

Oftentimes, we partner with a family's financial advisor or accountant to create a comprehensive estate plan, as a team.

Still others, fresh from completing their divorce with our firm, want to ensure they properly revise their will and estate planning documents for their new life.

Whether you're a young couple with their first child, middle aged and recently divorced, facing retirement and wanting to "nail things down", or nearing a medical procedure and want to ensure all aspects of your life are carefully deliberated--we will meet with you in an open, friendly manner to craft the right plan for you and your family.

Your estate planning matter will move along with us in 3 stages:  (1) the first meeting, to outline options and identify assets; (2) draft documents, forwarding them to the client for review or clarification; and (3) second and final meeting, to review the plan, sign and carry home to have when needed.

We look forward to meeting with you, and welcome your questions and ideas as we proceed.

Premier Trust & Estate Planning Counsel

  • Personal Estate Planning
  • Wills, Trusts, Advanced Medical Directives, Power of Attorney
  • Trust Advisory, Management, & Administration Services
  • Gift & Wealth Succession Planning
  • Probate & Estate Administration
  • Contested & Uncontested Guardianship Proceedings

When to Use a Trust or Will in Your Estate Plan

It depends.  And each family dynamic, not only the individual or couple meeting with the attorney, but the beneficiaries of the estate plan, bring a unique story with them.  Truly, this decision requires a personal, discreet conversation with a trusted legal advisor.  Attorney Van Smith will suggest you privately consider your own answers to the following questions to determine whether to use a will or trust:

  • Are you just getting started in life or nearing retirement?
  • In good health or poor health?
  • Are you single or in a second marriage?
  • No children or in a blended family with stepchildren?
  • Do you have, including your house, under $1M in assets or over $1M?
  • Do you own any assets, like a beach house, out of state?
  • Was your will drafted over 5 years ago?
  • Do you have any potential family members that may contest your wishes, and possibly take your beneficiaries to court?
  • Are you aware trusts can protect your life insurance proceeds from being taxed at your death?  [Were you aware those proceeds would be taxed--a lot?]

The very real benefits of incorporating a trust into your estate plan, must be balanced with an honest conversation about the costs, as well.  Typically, our clients find this discussion gives them peace of mind, but also satisfaction at truly saving their family many times over the basic costs of the right estate plan.

How Young Heirs Should Inherit from Trusts

Our founding attorney, Van Smith, believes trusts, when right for our clients, can also prevent our client's children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews from inheriting a large amount of assets at exactly the wrong time--18 or 21.  Trusts can ensure these assets provide for their needs while continuing to grow, frankly, while these young adults continue to grow up as well.  Section 2503(c) Trusts enable primary beneficiaries reaching the age of 18 or 21 to access what they need, but the with prudent oversight as they mature.  Attorney Van Smith therefore discourages Uniform Transfer to Minors Act gifts, in essence, dumping a heap of assets at the feet of an 18 or 21 year old whom may in turn fritter it away on that new sports car and trip abroad.

Our Philosophy

Attorney Van Smith and his team drafts solutions-oriented plans, written for understanding and action.  We write and speak clearly, understanding for many of our clients this may be their first or second time ever in a law office.

Our firm works with our clients' financial advisors and accountants, therefore, we do not manage securities or file tax returns--we leave that to the professionals you already have in place--or if you have none, then happily refer you to one.  Frankly, it is most cost-effective if we don't file your tax return or manage your money.  We stick to what we know best--legal solutions.

Our estate plans and assistance often focus on how you title assets and designate beneficiaries--this is where most estate plans fail--and where a Virginia estate planning attorney should spend most of their time, once beyond the point of understanding the family dynamics and the right instruments to compose that client's estate plan based on their unique situation.  This requires humility in the attorney to listen carefully to the client's unique situation--and not rush to a one-size-fits-all plan.

We rarely recommend our firm or attorney Van Smith to serve as your executor or trustee, unless there truly is no better option.  We are honored by the trust and respect we garner from our clients, but our ethical obligation to you is to provide the right solution.  If our firm, or a bank, or a trust company are relied upon to serve as trustee, we encourage our clients to also appoint trust protectors or trust advisors to ensure additional security for your heirs and support if needed.

The Three Documents Most Virginia Estate Plans Include:

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney:  Appointing an agent you trust to manage your financial affairs when you are incapacitated or unable to manage them on your own--for your benefit and according to your expressed preferences.
  2. Advanced Medical Directive:  Reduce the anxiety and potential conflict surrounding the decision of whether or not to "pull the plug" if you are ever in a vegetative state, also this document enables your representative to act on your behalf to get a second opinion or opt for life saving treatment, when you are unable to speak for yourself.
  3. Revocable Living Trust:  Directing your trustee to manage assets for you, and then your beneficiaries.  Trusts enable you to avoid costly probate and can provide asset protection from taxes, divorcing heirs, and liability from lawsuits.

Take the Next Step--Give Us a Call

Please call and ask to speak with attorney Van Smith's assistant to set up a new client meeting at 804.325.1245 or 757.941.4298.

Our Story--Opening the Estate Planning Division

Smith Strong opened the Trust & Estate Planning Division as a natural progression from our family law practice.  Our clients were comfortable sharing with us the intimate details of their lives—finances, children, love interests, hobbies, travel, concerns, fears—and so it seemed natural as estate planning questions arose to circle back.  Clients also appreciated, as family law attorneys, we knew how to create estate plans that protected their assets from divorcing heirs or litigation, keeping that wealth accumulated over a lifetime within their family.

We’ve honored that trust by providing iron-clad documents drafted by us, but with the efficiency and tax advantaged-design of the WealthCounsel document and membership platform.  Attorney Van Smith is now a member of WealthCounsel—a national attorney-membership organization dedicated to providing the right solution to estate planning questions.

Here was the problem—small firms could provide real cost-savings, but struggled keeping up with the ever-changing tax laws that truly created value in estate planning.  Enter WealthCounsel.  By uniting, small firms could collectively manage the ever-changing current of tax and estate laws—providing solutions-oriented planning—while retaining that family-oriented feel and low-cost structure that clients loved. 

And it’s not just estate planning documents for you, personally. 

Just this week, we met with a client whose Mother had just passed away.  Five children were left behind in four states. 

He needed a trusted legal advisor to assist him in his role as executor, making sure the estate went through probate properly, keeping his brothers and sisters happy in the process. 

We help families prepare, and then, when the time comes, assist those left behind with a solid hand-off to the next generation.  And just like our domestic relations clients, the satisfaction for us is in providing true peace of mind to our clients in a difficult and stressful moment.

PS:  If your parent or relative passes away, and you need assistance with the will or trust, we’re here to help.  Remember the best time to complete estate planning is right now.  Estate planning is the bedrock foundation of multi-generational wealth building.

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H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Family Law Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg