Talking about your death is never a pleasant discussion. In fact, many people avoid the topic at all costs, always changing the subject when it arises. Yet, it’s a fact of life that, if ignored, can cost you and your loved ones dearly at the end of your life and after you’ve passed.

The Law Office of James D. Fife offers estate planning services in Fairfax County, including Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Vienna. For over 25 years, we’ve been helping you create a plan that will help eliminate estate feuds, avoid taxes and probate, and enjoy your golden years strife-free. Below, we’ll continue our look at estate planning basics. Contact us today for your initial consultation!


Lay out your directives

The whole point of estate planning is to dictate what you want to happen to your possessions after you die, or what you desire to happen if you somehow become incapacitated. In this regard, you will need:

  • A living will. Also known as a medical care directive, this is the legal document that lays out what you want to happen should you become incapacitated. The Law Office of James D. Fife believes this is one of the most important legal documents you can make because it takes a huge burden off the shoulders of your loved ones who don’t want to be faced with a life or death decision should you enter a vegetative state, for example. With a living will, you make the decision. You also appoint one person to make medical decisions for you that don’t involve life or death decisions should you become incapacitated. Again, this is a huge relief to your family.
  • A durable financial power of attorney. This is a document that is very similar to your living will, but instead empowers someone to make financial decisions for you should you become incapacitated. This covers everything from paying taxes to managing your stock portfolio.
  • A limited power of attorney (POA). Many people have probably used a limited power of attorney at some point in their adult lives. A limited POA grants someone only a limited power and sometimes for only a limited amount of time to act on your behalf. These are often done for home loan closings where one party cannot be at the closing for one reason or another.
  • A trust. Having a trust allows you to bypass probate, which is the legal process that distributes your property. A trust appoints someone to oversee your estate once you’ve passed, with the assets being transferred to your designated beneficiaries automatically.

Choose your beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are those whom you designated to receive items in your estate. Most often, these are family members; however, you can choose organizations, such as nonprofits, to receive a portion of your estate as well. Most often, you name beneficiaries in your will or your estate plan. However, you can name beneficiaries on certain items as well, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies. The person whom you name on these policies usually supersedes who is named in your will. Hence, you will need to periodically check these instruments to make sure the people who you want to receive that item are up to date.

The Law Office of James D. Fife in Arlinton wants to remind you to never leave beneficiaries blank on any document. If you do and your account does go through probate, you’re at the whim of what the law says, not what you say. Furthermore, it is always recommended that you name contingent beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary dies and you forget to update that instrument.


The Law Office of James D. Fife offers the best estate planning services in Arlington. We will walk you through the process and offer expert advice when needed. Our estate lawyers are experts in helping you minimize taxes and maximize your write offs while you are still alive. If you own a business, we can help sort out the legalities for you of what happens to your share of the business when you pass. As your estate lawyer, we make sure nothing is forgotten, and everything is how you want it. Contact us today to learn more!