Why go to an Estate Planning Attorney or Probate Attorney?

I’m going to get away from my series on Virginia probate administration because of something that happened to me recently.

Late last week, I saw a notice for a seminar on inheritance and real estate being presented by a local real estate company. I am always trying to build my knowledge base and, given that real estate overlaps a great deal in probate, I decided to go and listen in on the topic.  The speaker was a real estate and title attorney with a small firm in the area.  His firm did some probate work but it was not a focus of his or his firm’s practice. And it showed.

He was extremely knowledgeable about how real estate transfers between people upon death and issues with respect to real estate for inheritance.  However, when he was asked questions dealing less with real estate and more strictly estate planning, he missed on a couple of answers.  He also gave some very wrong answers on a of couple estate planning topics.  As another professional in the industry, it demonstrated to me why a person should go to an attorney that specializes in estate planning to plan that person’s estate and wouldn’t go to me if that person was being sued for a breach of contract.

For example, he stated that someone should only create a living trust if that person had $3 million in assets because Virginia does not have an estate tax.  As most people that follow me know, I don’t immediately think someone should set up a living trust but it depends.  Only reviewing the composition of someone’s assets would creating a living trust be a good idea. There are other reasons beside tax savings for someone to set up a living trust and I have a long series over on my website listing if creating a living trust is a good idea. (Click here).

In fact, one of the couples in the seminar owned several real properties in multiple states.  They asked if probate administration would need to be opened in each state if the deeds of the property were owned by tenants in common.  The attorney said that the personal representative in Virginia would be able to control all the property in other states via the probate administration opened in Virginia.  That is not true.  Virginia probate courts have no jurisdiction over realty in other states.  Ancillary probate in each state where the real property is located would need to be opened.  One reason why you establish a living trust to maintain ownership of property in other states is to negate the need for ancillary probate and its associated legal and professional fees, court costs and estate taxes.

To me it demonstrates the changing legal market has created specialization for a reason.  Long ago, the general practitioner attorney could handle all aspects of a person’s legal needs but now constant changes in law requires an attorney to specialize because the attorney will never keep up with all the changes.  A person should not naturally assume the attorney that handles their title and real estate work should handle their estate planning and vice verse.

Later this week, I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled Virginia probate administration series.

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About Chris Guest

I am a trust and estate planning attorney working in the Washington, DC metro area. I offer comprehensive estate planning, trust administration, probate services and general business counseling for accountants, attorneys, business owners, consultants, federal and local government employees, retirees, other business professionals and other individuals.
This entry was posted in Estate Planning, General Information, Probate, Specialization. Bookmark the permalink.

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