Avoiding Probate

When someone dies, their will is submitted for probate, the legal process where a court determines if the will is valid and authentic. Probate ensures creditors are paid and that assets are distributed to the correct beneficiaries. If you pass without a will, you are considered to have died intestate, and the distribution of your assets will be determined by the court.


Probate expenses can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands depending on the on the value and complexity of the estate and whether a will or trust was in place. Additionally, probating a will makes it a public document eliminating any privacy of its contents and the probate process can delay the administering of your estate and draw it out over many months or even years.

Therefore many individuals try to avoid or reduce what is included in probate. An experienced attorney can help you avoid probate in several ways including the strategies below.

  • Designate Beneficiaries– Assets that have a beneficiary designation (such as life insurance, retirement, and bank accounts) will pass automatically to the named beneficiary, avoiding probate.
  • Title Assets Properly – Assets that are co-owned with a right of survivorship will pass automatically to the surviving co-owner without going through probate, such as a home owned by a married couple with a right of survivorship.
  • Use a Trust – Trusts avoid probate for assets that are transferred to the trust before death even though they may still be used during such lifetime. For assets that allow for a beneficiary designation, the trust can be named the beneficiary.
  • Pour-Over Will – When using a trust, one should also consider including a pour-over will to account for any assets that are missed or were not transferred to the trust. This document will transfer the remaining assets to the trust at death.

To get help with your estate planning or navigating the probate process contact Tarris Law at (540) 319-4111 or email us at info@TarrisLaw.com.

2 Steps to Create an Affordable Trust for Your Family

Trusts are used to protect your finances and to provide for your family if something happens to you. Having a trust may sound complicated and expensive, luckily they can easy and affordable. All it takes to step up an affordable trust are two easy steps, creating a trust as part of your will and obtaining life insurance to fund the trust.

1.) Create a Testamentary Trust as part of your Will

Meet with an attorney to draft or edit your will. This will should include a clause that creates a testamentary trust upon your death and provides your family with a nest egg. You will need to decide what purposes the trust funds should be used for, who will manage the trust, and how long it will be in effect.

Often people pick a financially responsible family member to manage the trust. This person ensures that funds are paid out slowly in order to provide the family with food, shelter, education, and other living expenses. These trusts may last the lifetime of a loved one but often they end once the child is a responsible age to manage the funds themselves, usually 25-35.  Additionally, as you set up the trust you may even decide how you would like the trust funds invested.

2.) Fund the trust with low-cost life insurance.

In order for the trust to provide for your family, it needs to be funded. If available this may be done with savings, however, this is not always practical for many young families. The most common option is using low-cost term life insurance. Many young families obtain policies paying $100,000 to $500,000 for under $19/month.

Trust for Young Family

Bonus Info: Individuals should also obtain a disability-income insurance policy to pay a living wage should they become disabled. Many people think about providing for their family if they die but not if they can’t work because of back pain.

Contact Us Now to Set Up Your Trust!

Legal Health Checklist

Use our legal health checklist to see if you have everything you need to be legally & financially protected.

When you begin working we suggest:

  • Obtaining the Employment Agreement and Handbook for knowing the rules.
  • File Taxes to build records and to avoid debts.
  • Maximize Roth IRA and 401(k) Match to maximize tax savings.
  • Use Flexible Savings Accounts for a tax deduction on all expenses that qualify.

When you turn 18 we suggest:

  • A Will to determine how your assets will be distributed.
  • A Financial Power of Attorney appoints someone to make your financial decisions if you become unable.
  • A Living Will & Health Care Directive to make advance decisions regarding your healthcare and last wishes.
  • Life, Disability, Health, Liability Insurance Policies to cover assets, income, and liabilities.
  • Maximize a Health Savings Account for tax-free savings for healthcare and long term care.
  • A Roommate Agreement to handle disputes among non-family members.

When you purchase, sell or exchange a vehicle or other valuable property we suggest:

  • A Bill of Sale to detail the terms of sale for an item.
  • A Purchase Order as evidence of the terms to purchase goods in case a disagreement occurs.
  • Property Insurance to protect the asset.

When you purchase or lease real property we suggest:

  • Purchase Agreements and Deeds as evidence of the terms of purchase and details of the rights to a property in case of disagreements or future transfers.
  • Rental/Lease Agreements to dictate warranties, protections, and responsibilities.
  • Title & Homeowners/Renter’s Insurance to protect against mistakes and accidents

If you get married we suggest:

  • Add spouse’s name to Will and Beneficiary Forms, consider adding to POAs or Trusts.
  • A Marriage Agreement to formalize expectations of a new or existing marriage.
  • Property Assignments to describe what is joint and individually owned property.
  • Joint and Separate Bank Accounts to distinguish between joint and marital property.

If you have children we suggest:

  • Adding Guardianship Designation and names to Wills, Trusts, POAs, and beneficiary forms.
  • A Family Trust funded with savings or life insurance to make sure your family is provided for.
  • A Parenting/Custody Agreement to reduce fighting over the kids.
  • An Education Savings Account and Minor Checking Account to manage a child’s savings.

If you open and run a business we recommend:

  • Articles of Incorporation/Organization to organize as a separate entity for liability purposes.
  • Ownership/Operating Agreements to dictate how the business will be owned and operated.
  • Employment Agreements to formalize the terms and expectations of a working relationship.
  • Purchase Orders or Service Contracts to formalize terms with customers and clients
  • Copyrights, Patents, & Trademarks to protect your intellectual property.
  • Buy-Sell Agreements to ensure business succession and asset transfers are handled properly.

When you retire we recommend:

  • Obtaining for Medicare and Supplement Plans
  • Spending Social Security funds 1st before Traditional IRA funds before Roth IRA funds before HSA funds.
  • Considering Long-Term Care Insurance and saving HSA funds for eldercare.
  • Medicaid Planning in case you need long-term care you cannot afford.
  • Considering a Credit Shelter Trust and/or Life Estate to protect your nest egg from creditors.
  • Tax Plan for estate and gift taxes using QTIP, GST & Charitable Remainder Trusts, Foundations and Disclaimers.

If you get Disabled we recommend:

  • File for SSI and SSDI to obtain government benefits.
  • Get help finding specialized housing options in your area.

If you get Divorced we suggest:

  • A Separation Agreement explaining how the parties will live and conduct affairs.
  • A Property Settlement Agreement describing how property and income will be divided.
  • A Custody Agreement describing how custody, support, and visitation of children will be divided.

When accidents occur we recommend:

  • You gather Evidence, pictures and notes and refuse to make a statement or answer questions without an attorney present. You may need to ask if you are free to leave.
  • A Retainer Agreement or to call an attorney so you have an attorney ready to quickly advise you on the best course ahead.

We recommend having all documents drafted or reviewed by an attorney so that you don’t get caught with the short end of the stick.  Contact Tarris Law to get your matter checked off.


How to Protect Your Rights if you are Questioned by Police or Arrested

Do you know how to properly protect your rights? We can help. See the instructions below on how to handle police questioning, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have.


1.) Be polite and respectful when speaking with an officer. You should politely respond to any reasonable questions the officer has and you may record the interaction. Make sure to be prepared to provide identification when operating a vehicle and to obtain the officer’s name.

2.) If you feel like you are being interrogated or are not free to leave, ask the officer if you are under arrest and if you are allowed to leave.

3.) If you are not under arrest but not free to leave, ask why.

4.) If the officer asks to search you or your belongings, you should politely and clearly refuse so your rights are protected. You should then ask again if you are under arrest and free to leave. Officers may be allowed to obtain probable cause for a search. If the officer says they have a search warrant ask to see it and for a copy to protect your rights.

5.) If you are under arrest, immediately ask to have an attorney present for any further police questioning and clearly refuse to answer all further questioning until your attorney arrives to protect your rights.

6.) Do not say, sign, or agree to anything without your attorney being present after you have invoked your right to an attorney no matter what tactics the police use.

7.) Do not resist arrest, confront, run from, or initiate physical interaction with an officer.

8.) Do not talk about your case with others at ANYTIME, especially with inmates or on facebook or other social media. Do not speak about your case on the phone from jail.

9.) Once your attorney arrives, be honest and follow his instructions so he can adequately protect your rights.


11 Legal Steps for Starting a New Business in Virginia

Starting a New Virginia Business

You must complete several legal steps to start a new Virginia business. You must file with several types of bureaucracies at all levels of government. Additionally, it is best practice to get many of your agreements in writing and reviewed by an attorney to protect your person and your business.

1.) Reserve the Business Name

Choosing a name for your business to give it an identity is an important first step. You may reserve a name with the state and any individual using a name other than their own needs to obtain a fictitious name certificate locally where they have a place of business.

2.) Prepare and File Articles of Organization or Incorporation.

Corporations and LLCs must file articles of existence with the State Corporation Commission, where they identify the legal name of their business, type of entity, the address of the principal place of the business, & who the registered agent will be.

3.) File for an Employment Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS

This number is the identification number of your business for tax purposes and is often required by financial institutions.

4.) If there are multiple owners, have an Owner’s Agreement prepared by an attorney.

Owner’s Agreements (Partnership Agreements, Operating Agreements, Shareholder Agreements, Founders Agreements) are critical to businesses that are owned or managed by more than one person. They specify who owns what and who can make which decisions, what each person will contribute, why the company exists, how decisions and distributions are made, how debts are paid, how the company will be managed, what the rules and enforcement procedures are regarding disagreements, how an individual may transfer ownership or his share in the company, and how the company may be terminated or passed on to others, and any other wish of the owners.

5.) Have your Commercial Lease or Real Estate Purchase Agreement prepared and reviewed by an attorney.

It is so important for your new business to get the location right. Have an attorney draft and review your agreements to ensure the space has everything you need, that it is too your liking, and that you are protected should an accident occur.

6.) Once you are located, get a Business License with your locality and prepare for tax filings.

You will need to get a business license in the city or county where you are serving the public. Also, you will need to prepare to file your monthly and quarterly taxes.

7.) Consult with an attorney about negotiating your Purchase Orders, if you have inventory.

Contracts with suppliers, distributors, and other vendors are more negotiable than those at a retail store. That is why it is a good idea to have an experienced attorney assist in negotiating better terms for your purchase orders so your business can obtain a better deal. An experienced attorney is knowledgeable about various contract clauses that help a business secure more inventory, receive it at shorter intervals and lower quantities, and at lower prices. Additionally, clauses can be added that shift liability for accidents on to the other party.

8.) Have an attorney draft your Employment Agreements.

When done right, these agreements incentivize employees to do good work and also protect the parties from harmful behaviors. Employment and independent contractor agreements set the terms and rights of a healthy working arrangement, while non-compete and non-disclosure agreements provide competitive protection to the business.

9.) Have an attorney draft a Licensing Agreement, if you will be providing rights to a product, service, or idea.

Licensing agreements are used to set out the details of the rights and restrictions regarding a product or service. What is allowed and prohibited can often be confused and thus there is considerable value in putting the terms to writing should a disagreement occur.

10.) Have an attorney draft Indemnity Agreements to protect the business from liability, if you will be conducting a dangerous or risky activity.

Many services, products, & duties exist that create a liability to a business. Horseback riding, hazardous materials, and heavy lifting all create a potential liability. It is important that customers and employees know that they are responsible for engaging in risky behavior and that the business will not be responsible.

11.) Have an attorney review your Promotions, Offers, & Customer Agreements.

From time to time various businesses have offered a legally binding promotion or offer to customers that create an unintended effect that severely harms the business. Reviewing these offers ahead of time can save a lot of money down the road. New businesses should also examine contracts with customers, often a receipt, to properly list all terms and conditions.

BONUS: Insurance Policies

Insurance is one of the best ways to protect yourself from liability because they will reimburse your loss. You should have both personal and business umbrella liability policies. Life and disability policies to protect you and your family, the business and key employees. Also, an adequate business property policy is needed to protect the business in the event of an accident or loss.


What You Need in a Marriage Agreement

A Marriage agreement is a legal contract that sets forth the terms of a marriage in writing. They are often used to protect individuals from getting taken advantage of but the best agreements also incentivize cooperation to achieve a happy marriage.

Cohabitation clauses should explain how living expenses will be paid for and chores completed. Will they be shared and who is responsible? These clauses should explain the living situations prior to the engagement and set forth a plan for living arrangements for both parties should the engagement end. It is important to ensure that no one ends up on the street.

Asset Division clauses should distinguish between property that was acquired prior to the marriage and after the marriage began. These clauses set rules for spitting up the different types of assets should the engagement end. Often premarital assets are retained while those acquired during the marriage are split up.

Custody clauses determine the full-time guardian and visitation times for children and pets. Often this is a big fighting point that hurts relationships even more. If these decisions are made ahead of time there is one less thing to fight about later.

Parenting clauses go into more detail than custody clauses. They may add specific programs, organizations, and habits that are to be promoted to a child both during and after a marriage.

Financial clauses explain how investments and insurance are to be used and maintained during the course of marriage, and after for the general well-being of the family. Life, health, & disability insurance, retirement accounts, savings accounts and operating agreements should all be taken into consideration and used properly.

Support clauses explain how spouses may financially support each other and whether the support should continue, if the sides split.  Often times when there is a more significant bread winner they will provide some amount of support until the other gets on their feet. If there are children, the younger they are, the more this amount may be.

Loyalty clauses can seal a marriage agreement by creating incentives for staying together and disincentives for infedelity. This way you can put penalties on cheating, such as getting less custody and fewer assets. You can also add incentives such as more guaranteed custody or assets for each year of marriage.

10 Parts of a Complete Estate Plan

Creating a Complete Estate Plan

Creating a comprehensive estate plan is a long and tedious task. You have to document all your assets and accounts, decide who the beneficiaries are and who will have control, all while looking for tax saving strategies. The list below should clarify many of the legal parts and briefly explain what each document or designation does.

1.) Last Will & Testament

A will is the most basic legal document for estate planning. Without a last will, the court can decide how your assets get distributed and who gets custody of minor children. Wills allow you to specify which possessions go to whom and designate care instructions for minor children, as well as make funeral arrangements in advance. Wills are often accompanied by a living will to cover disabilities, testamentary trusts and life insurance to protect minors and other loved ones, and a living trust to avoid publicity and probate taxes.

2.) Living Will

A living will is the most important legal document to have during your lifetime and in your estate plan. It allows you to describe the type of care you want should you become critically ill, and what you want in end-of-life care. Once completed, you should give a copy to your lawyer, doctor, hospital, power of attorney, and others close to you so it is available when needed instead of tucked in a safe.

3.) Living Trust (Inter Vivos Trust)

Living trusts are used to keep estate distribution a private matter, while also avoiding court, and probate taxes. They can be combined with a Financial Power of Attorney to assign a decision maker upon incapacitation, and with a “pour-over” will, to transfer assets not included in the trust and assign guardianships. They are also revocable should your situation change your estate plan can change with it.

4.) Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Finances

Financial Power of Attorney – A legal document that authorizes a person of your choosing to make your legal and financial decisions if you become disabled or incapacitated. You may also specify requirements for the position such as providing statements to a lawyer or accountant or having taxes done independently. Without such a designation, you could be put under guardianship should something happen to you.

Healthcare Power of Attorney – A legal document that authorizes a person of your choosing to make your healthcare decisions if you become disabled or incapacitated. This assignment is usually done in conjunction with a Living Will, which allows you to make specific healthcare decisions in advance. Without such a designation, you could be put under guardianship should something happen to you.

5.) Guardianship Designation

This legal designation allows you to decide who will care for your minor children (or pets) called a “guardian of the person” and who will care for their finances, called a “guardian of the estate.” The designation can also be used to leave specific directions for the care of the person or estate.

6.) Testamentary Trust

A testamentary trust is often used to protect assets for minor children and heirs and is one of the most important aspects of a complete estate plan. This allows you to designate how your heirs will receive their inheritance. Often life insurance is used as a funding mechanism for these trusts.

7.) Insurance & Retirement Accounts

Term life insurance is the mechanism most used by testamentary trusts to ensure a child’s care is properly funded.

Whole life policies are an excellent way to create or add to a legacy fund.

Disability insurance is an under-utilized tool to protect your income and lifestyle should you become disabled before retirement.

Long-term care insurance (LTC) provides funding for nursing and home care costs.

Umbrella policies protect assets from personal liability.

Irrevocable life insurance trusts are vehicles used to shield large policies from taxes.

Retirement Accounts such as a 401(k), 403(b), Traditional and Roth IRAs are used to save and fund retirement and to reduce tax liability.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are used to save and pay for health care and to reduce tax liability.

Education saving accounts (ESAs) such as Coverdell or 529 plans are used to save for higher education expenses and to reduce tax liability.

8.) Partnership Agreements

Cohabitation Agreements specify how assets are to be used during the cohabitation and how they will be divided after.

Parenting Agreements specify the care and custody of a minor child.

Marriage Agreements outline assets, custody, and support expectations prior to, during, and after a marriage.

Family Limited Partnerships are legal entities used to transfer ownership of a family business to heirs outside of probate and/or avoid creditors while allowing for the retained control of management decisions.

LLCs with an Operating Agreement are used to help make decisions and define interests and roles among heirs/owners/siblings, regarding jointly owned property, such as houses or farms. This entity also makes co-owned property less appealing to individual creditors and protects personal property from creditors of the LLC.

9.) Ownership & Beneficiary Designations

As a part of your estate plan, you should always designate beneficiaries to your accounts as this will allow those accounts to pass by probate. Joint ownership of various is also used to avoid probate and taxes. Copies of these designations should be kept in a safe place, with your lawyer, and trusted family and/or friends. This form should also include locations of any valuables and keys, a list of accounts, assets, policies, deeds, debts, and advisors, etc. It is the foundation of your estate plan.

10.) Charitable Giving

Charitable Trusts are used to donate your assets to a cause you care about while avoiding taxes.

Private Foundations are a way to control how your charitable offerings are being used while keeping the funds out of your taxable estate.

Donor-Advised Funds allow your to set up an investment fund for the benefit of a charity. These often have better tax deductions than private foundations.


A comprehensive estate plan should include

  • A last will & testament including guardian and executor designations, funeral instructions, and a testamentary trust with a funding mechanism such as life insurance for after death protection
  • A living will & living trust including powers of attorney plus disability insurance & LTC, and retirement/saving account(s) for in life protection.
  • Partnership Agreements and umbrella/liability policies for your securing your business and personal dealings with others.
  • Charitable Trusts, Private Foundations, or Donor-Advised Funds to aid interests that you care about.

If you have any questions about the foregoing list or would like to set up your own personalized estate plan please contact Tarris Law.