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Estate Planning Attorney vs. Estate Administration Attorney

Written by: Bennie A. Wall

Posted on: May 3, 2024

Estate Planning Document

Estate planning attorneys and estate administration attorneys fulfill vital, yet distinct, roles in the realms of legacy planning, asset distribution, and wealth preservation.

Estate planning attorneys are tasked with devising strategies to effectively manage an individual’s finances, property, and personal affairs in the event of their death or incapacity.

Conversely, estate administration attorneys specialize in the resolution of an individual’s estate or trust following their demise, through either probate or trust administration processes.

Although there can be some overlap between these roles, not every attorney handles both.

During the estate planning process, it’s crucial to consult with your attorney about their involvement throughout your lifetime, as well as their capacity to support your loved ones in managing your estate and trust after your passing.

At Carrell Blanton Ferris & Associates, our team of attorneys focus solely on estate planning and estate administration. By choosing to work with us, you can ensure that your family is supported through all of life’s transitions.

What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do? 

An estate planning attorney plays a crucial role in crafting an estate plan during your lifetime, offering continuous reviews and advice to ensure it remains up-to-date. An estate plan is essential for addressing key questions on how your affairs are to be handled, not only in the event of your death but also if you become incapacitated. These critical questions include:

  • Who will inherit your assets?
  • Who will care for your minor children if you’re unable to do so?
  • How can you minimize taxes to maximize the inheritance for your loved ones?
  • Will your important documents be easily accessible to those who need them?
  • Are the correct beneficiaries designated on your accounts?
  • Should you place some assets in a trust for better management and protection?
  • Who will make decisions on your behalf if you’re alive but unable to do so yourself regarding your health or finances?
  • How will you document your wishes for end-of-life care?
  • What strategies can you employ to enhance the financial security of your loved ones?

Addressing these questions with the guidance of an estate planning attorney ensures your affairs are settled according to your wishes, providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

In general, estate planning attorneys advise all adults to create an estate plan, particularly if they have family members or beneficiaries they wish to support. This entails, at minimum, drafting a last will and testament, which outlines the distribution of assets and possessions, including those of both financial and sentimental value. The key functions of a will include:

  • Naming a trusted individual, known as an executor or personal representative, to administer the estate and navigate the probate process. This court-supervised procedure confirms the validity of the will and ensures the proper distribution of assets.
  • Designating a guardian (and alternate guardians) for any minor children.
  • Instructing the executor or personal representative on settling estate expenses, including outstanding debts, taxes, and probate costs.
  • Identifying beneficiaries and detailing the allocation of assets and property to them.

Beyond drafting a will, an estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance on whether establishing one or more trusts is beneficial for your situation. Their expertise extends to:

  • Choosing an appropriate executor and trustee;
  • Strategies for estate tax minimization;
  • Transferring accounts and property into trusts or designating a trust as a beneficiary;
  • Advising on the selection of suitable beneficiaries and structuring inheritances to address their needs effectively;
  • Appointing agents for financial and medical powers of attorney;
  • Formulating medical directives.

Skillful estate planning can streamline (and in many cases eliminate) the probate process, reducing its duration and complexity while granting your loved ones prompt access to your assets. Although an estate plan may not eliminate probate entirely, failing to establish one means that Virginia’s laws of intestacy will dictate the distribution of your assets, which may not align with your wishes.

This comprehensive approach ensures that every aspect of your estate planning is tailored to meet your specific needs and preferences, offering peace of mind and security for your future and that of your loved ones.

What Does an Estate Administration Attorney Do? 

An estate administration attorney provides invaluable support to your loved ones by guiding them through the estate or trust administration process following your passing. They navigate your family through the complex legal proceedings triggered by your death.

Probate Administration Attorney

A probate attorney serves as an essential advocate for the personal representative of your estate, whether it’s the executor designated in your will or the administrator appointed by the court in the absence of a will. A probate attorney’s role is pivotal helping your loved one with settling your financial matters and ensuring your final wishes are honored.

Key responsibilities of a probate attorney often include:

  • Collecting proceeds from life insurance policies
  • Providing legal counsel on the client’s obligations and entitlements
  • Cataloging the deceased’s assets
  • Submitting the will for probate to the appropriate court
  • Administering the estate’s financial aspects
  • Supervising property valuations
  • Ensuring the payment of all necessary estate and income taxes, as well as settling outstanding debts
  • Drafting and submitting required legal documents to the court
  • Adjusting titles for accounts and properties as needed
  • Distributing assets and properties to the rightful beneficiaries

These duties underscore the probate attorney’s role in facilitating a smooth transition of assets, adhering to legal standards, and upholding the decedent’s wishes.

Trust Administration Attorney

A trust administration attorney provides invaluable guidance to trustees in managing a trust. Unlike wills, trusts bypass the court’s probate process, enabling swift and private distribution of the trust’s assets. Nevertheless, trustees often require assistance to navigate their legal responsibilities effectively.

Situations where a trust attorney’s expertise is crucial include:

  • Interpreting the trust document and relevant state laws to ensure the trustee fulfills all legal obligations, including maintaining accurate records, handling tax filings, executing distributions, and acting in the trust beneficiaries’ best interests as per their fiduciary duties.
  • Drafting the necessary legal paperwork for transferring ownership of the trust’s assets and properties.
  • Identifying and addressing potential concerns, such as conflicts of interest or undue influence by beneficiaries on the trustee.
  • Assisting the trustee in keeping the trust’s beneficiaries in well-informed about the trust and its management.
  • Helping the trustee with preparing a detailed accounting.

What Type of Estate Attorney Do You Need? 

Some attorneys are qualified to perform estate planning, probate administration, and trust administration services. However, it’s often said: “a jack of all trades is a master of none.”

At Carrell Blanton Ferris & Associates, our specialized teams in estate planning, probate administration, and trust administration are dedicated to serving the communities of Richmond, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Virginia Beach, and the surrounding areas. We are happy to help ensure the families we serve are well cared for through all of life’s transitions.

If you or a loved one needs assistance with creating or updating an estate plan, handling the estate of a deceased loved one, or administering a trust, give us a call today. With thirty years of dedicated service, we are ready to assist you.

Blog Content Provided by WealthCounsel – BAW reviewed and edited 4.11.2024

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