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Defining common terms in Virginia estate planning

Estate planning is a complex process, and typically involves learning some new terms and concepts.

Some of the most important estate planning terms to understand include:

  • Advance medical directive – A document that details a person’s health care wishes in case they become incapacitated. An advance medical directive also allows the individual to name someone to make health care decisions on their behalf.
  • Estate – All of the money, real property and personal property a person owns.
  • Estate planning – The process of taking steps to ensure that one’s wishes are followed after death, especially regarding the distribution of one’s wealth and assets.
  • Intestate – Describes someone who died without making a will. When a person dies intestate, the state distributes their estate according to established rules of inheritance.
  • Power of attorney – A document which allows another person to handle one’s financial affairs in the case of incapacitation, or sometimes even before one is incapacitated. The person granted power of attorney may have power over all financial decisions, or only certain tasks.
  • Probate – A court-mediated process in which an estate’s assets are distributed. Probate is a public process that typically takes months. Wills go through probate, as do the estates of people who died without making a will.
  • Trust – A document that establishes a situation where property is held by one party in the interests of another. Property that is held in trust does not have to go through probate. Trusts can also allow individuals to give some or all of their estate to charity in a charitable trust, to control how and when a younger family member receives their inheritance, and more.
  • Will – A legal document in which a person outlines how their estate should be administered following their death.

The elder law attorneys at Hook Law Center assist Virginia families with will preparation, trust & estate administration, guardianships and conservatorships, long-term care planning, special needs planning, veterans benefits, and more. To learn more, visit or call 757-399-7506.

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