Virginia Estate Planning Lawyers

Best of Virginia 2014 – 2019

Our Virginia estate planning lawyers have been selected as part of the”Best of Virginia” law firms (one of three, every year from 2014-2019 (see Virginia Living Magazine). At Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig (DBL) our Virginia estate and trust attorneys work with individuals, families, and business owners in Virginia to develop customized estate and tax planning strategies that best support their current and future goals.

Call now to speak to someone who will create a customized estate plan for Virginia estates of every size 703-777-7319, or email our estate team at   Read this page and explore the library of information on tax planning, trusts, and other subjects in our blog or on our Podcast.  If you are a business owner, start here with Three Reasons to Have an Estate Plan for Your Business.

Estate planning is for any individual, family or business owner that wants a say over what happens to their wealth and how it’s to be passed down to the next generation.  Perhaps it is beneficial to move assets outside of your taxable estate.  In some cases, a better plan might be a gifting strategy to gift some assets while you are alive.  Yet other cases, it is just important that very detailed and specific guidance (instructions) are spelled out.  No matter what works best in your case, what is most important is that your plan is tailored to fit your particular situation.

Many of our attorneys are licensed in multiple jurisdictions giving them unique understanding of how the law works in many states and how documents can be best written to move from state to state in our mobile society.  DBL has 12 offices in the United States.  We are licensed in California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  Regardless we can help you with estate planning and property in any state in the United States through our affiliations and relationships with other law firms.

If you have just moved to or from a community property jurisdiction (i.e. California, Idaho, Washington, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin), our Vienna attorney can write special documents that will enable you to take advantage of community property benefits. Likewise, if you have recently moved here from a community property jurisdiction, our Vienna attorney can help you preserve your community property, thus giving you the ability to erase more capital gains upon the death of the first spouse.  This can only be done if your trust is written properly, contains specific language and certain schedules.

Our firm is also ideal for clients who have assets in multiple jurisdictions and want to go to one place with expertise in all the jurisdictions where their assets are located.  It is very frustrating to work with an attorney who tells you he/she can only take care of your Virginia assets necessitating hiring a second attorney in the other jurisdiction.  At DBL that will NOT happen.  A document must be drafted to address documents in all of the states in which you have them.  For example, a power of attorney in California can be filed in the County Recorder’s Office so it must have the ability to be recorded on the document itself.  Many of our clients also own property in other states, like Florida or California.  In that case, the Power of Attorney must be written to both states’ law.  Our firm has offices and is licensed in a large number of states and thus we are uniquely situated to prepare estate plans for individuals who have a property in more than one location.

Estate Planning Services

Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig offers experienced estate planning attorneys in their Vienna and Leesburg offices to guide you through every step of the process. They work with individuals, families, and business owners to plan and prepare for the unexpected.

  • Estate Planning. Estate planning involves an array of matters, such as wills and trusts, asset protection, gifting, tax planning, and more. As experienced Fairfax County and Loudoun County estate planning lawyers, these AV-rated attorneys at DBL will help you create an individualized plan that takes your specific needs and future desires into consideration. Learn more about Virginia Estate Planning by reading below.
  • Wills & Trusts. Wills and trusts are essential estate planning tools that can help ensure your goals for the future are carried out to your specifications. As an experienced Fairfax will lawyer and trust attorney, DBL works with you, advising you on all your options and guiding you throughout the process of establishing a will and/or trust so your assets, property, and business ventures are passed on to your loved ones accordingly. Learn more about Virginia Wills & Trusts by reading below.
  • Asset Protection. You’ve worked hard to attain your assets, and DBL works diligently to make sure they are protected and preserved for future generations. Our experienced Fairfax County asset protection attorneys carefully review your assets and help you establish a solid strategy that will safeguard your valuables both today and for the future. Learn more about Virginia Asset Protection . . . click here.
  • Joint Trusts. If you have ever lived in a common-law jurisdiction, or even if you have not, as long as you are married and have assets that are held jointly with your legal spouse Joint Trusts are a great way to avoid capital gains taxes when the first spouse passes away. Learn more about Joint Trusts in Virginia . . .click here.
  • Probate. Probate is the legal term for the process used to distribute a deceased’s property and possessions. Probate can be extremely confusing, but with Fairfax probate attorney we on your side, you will have all the tools you need to ensure all estate matters are handled accurately and settled swiftly. Learn more about Virginia Probate & Estate Administration . . . click here.
  • Guardianship/ Conservatorship. When an individual either through birth, illness, accident, etc. has been incapacitated to the point that they can no longer make pertinent life decisions a court may appoint them a Guardian or Conservator. Both of these positions grant powers to the Guardian or Conservator to make necessary financial or healthcare-related decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. Learn more about Virginia Guardianship . . . click here.
  • Special Needs Planning. Planning for a child with special needs involves a much greater range of tasks. You need to ensure your child will be cared for when you are unable to provide for them. As a Fairfax special needs trust attorney, DBL has extensive experience working with families to establish the documents and funds that should be put in place for children with special needs. She will help you do the same for your loved ones. Learn more about Virginia Special Needs Trusts . . . click here.
  • Tax Planning. Laws governing taxes change yearly, and ensuring you stay up-to-date on these rules can be challenging. DBL’s experienced tax attorneys meticulously stay up to date on the latest tax changes and are ready to help you with strategies to mitigate or eliminate tax. Learn more about Virginia Tax Planning . . . click here.

Why Work With DBL Virginia Estate Planning Lawyers?

  • Knowledge and Experience. When you are looking for an estate attorney to help you safeguard your interests, you need an experienced professional who can provide you with solid guidance and advice.  With over 20 years of experience, DBL is well equipped to handle a full range of estate planning, asset protection, and business planning matters.
  • Compassionate Representation. Planning for the future and life’s uncertainties can be overwhelming.  The attorneys at DBL understand these challenges and will work side by side with you at every step.  They carefully listen to your concerns and provide honest and straightforward answers to any questions that you may have.
  • Individualized Solutions.DBL appreciates that every client is different with their own unique needs, concerns, and objectives.  We provide clients with individualized plans and strategies that best protect their assets and property.  Our hands-on, customized approach will give you the peace of mind that you are looking for.
  • Proactive Approach. DBL’s estate planning attorneys concentrate on helping individuals and businesses plan ahead for the future.  Our proactive approach to the practice law will help you avoid potential problems and prepare for all kinds of possibilities.
  • Trusted Reputation.DBL is an AV® Rated by Martindale-Hubbell, A+ by the Better Business Bureau, Virginia SuperLawyers (top 5%) and elected as a “Best Law Firm in Virginia” by Virginia Living Magazine (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), and a veteran-owned company with a global reputation for excellence.

Who Needs An Estate Plan?

Everyone in northern Virginia, southern Virginia, or any part of the Commonwealth needs an estate plan.  Many clients have said to us “I do not need a trust or a will because I do not have enough money”.  It is not the amount of money that you have that dictates the need for a plan, but a basic desire to make sure your assets pass to your loved ones according to your terms.  Also, no matter if you live you must have a plan for incapacity.  If you do not, your loved ones will have to file a Guardian and Conservatorship in Court.  The need to do this can place a great strain on your family.

Many families have important collections that they want to stay in the family.  Care must be taken in the planning for these large and often valuable collections.  Sometimes children do not want the collection or desire to only take a fraction of the collection.  Therefore, with care and guidance, she can help find other alternatives.

If you have a blended family, sometimes the planning for your estate can be difficult.  Our expert attorneys at DBL have done many plans where assets are strategically distributed to each person’s respective children.  There are no wrong ways of doing things.  There are, however, wrong plans.  They happen when the attorney does not listen or take enough time to really figure out what you want.

Perhaps you have real property in multiple states.  Maybe one of your properties is located in a state that imposes an estate tax.  Again, you need a plan that will address the complexities of your particular situation.

Many people put off estate planning because talking about a plan to address someone’s incapacity and/or death is uncomfortable.  Many people make do with really old plans.  Perhaps you had a Will done when you were first married and you are about to celebrate your 40th wedding anniversary; there is no way that document is current in state and federal law.

Did you know that if you only have a Will your plan is incomplete? What would happen in the event of a tragedy that left you unable to tend to your affairs? What would happen to your minor children? Your business? Your financial responsibilities? A good estate plan should address all the stages of your life – healthy active times, sick times, possible times of incapacitation, and then, of course, death. A comprehensive and customized estate plan addresses this, with planning through a Trust along with documents such as Powers of Attorney, Health Care Powers of Attorney and HIPAA waivers, so that you can name someone – your Trustee/Agent – to take over your affairs and carry out your wishes with respect to your financial matters and medical care when you are not able to. Once this is done you’ll have peace of mind.

DBL’s process is straightforward, but the result is anything but.  You tell us about your current situation and your desires for the future, and then we craft your plan to reflect both.  Our plans are highly innovative and customizable and can include as many special provisions as you may have.  It is not uncommon for our Trusts to even include language written in your own words.


Will (also known as a Last Will and Testament) is a document that specifies how you want your possessions (things) and property to be distributed when you die. The Will also designates the personal representative who is in charge of administering the person’s estate. All will go through probate.  A will is probated in the county where the decedent was a resident. For example, Bill lived in a house in Vienna.  Upon his death, his daughter opens his probate in Fairfax County.  Another example, Sarah moved here from California. She moved here right into assisted lived in Ashburn.  Upon her death, her sister will open her probate in Loudoun County.

Two other important functions of wills are to designate the guardian for minor children and state disposition of your remains.

Wills are great for young people starting out or older people who have divested themselves of their real property.  In northern Virginia, it is not uncommon for most people to own real property.  However, if that is your main asset then you can do a transfer on death deed.  This deed says upon my death my real property will pass to this person.  The deed also allows for a secondary beneficiary.  Husbands and wives can do the transfer on death deeds.

Upon your death, your will becomes a public document along with all of the accompanying filings. Anyone can look and see what you owned at the time of your death that is going through probate. If you do not want your relatives to know what you have do not use a will.

The original must be available to probate. A copy will not suffice. Sometimes attorneys will keep the original will as a courtesy to you. Unfortunately, attorneys go out of business and they do not always send the original will back to you before that happens. We have had many clients tell us they do not have their original will and when we try to help them get it we find that it is impossible. It is best that you be responsible for the safekeeping of your original will.

In Virginia, wills are both witnessed and notarized. That is called a self-proving affidavit. It means that when the will is brought to probate court the personal representative does not need to get one of the witnesses to attest to see you sign the will. Not every state does this. It is important to know if you move to Virginia you might want to re-execute your will using two witnesses and a notary. If a will is very old sometimes it is hard to find a witness to attest to seeing you sign the will.


All wills go through probate. Probate is a court-supervised proceeding through which a decedent’s assets are assembled, debts are paid off, and remaining assets are distributed according to the terms in the will. Probate is time-consuming and expensive, often taking 18-24 months in Northern Virginia and costing thousands of dollars in filing fees. The accounting can be confusing. It is often cheaper to have an attorney help you from the beginning of the probate process then start in the middle. If we start in the middle sometimes we need to go back and correct mistakes.

Most families find probate to be frustrating and wish they were not going through it.  When our clients say “if Dad knew he could avoid probate with a living trust I sure he would have done that.”  It’s even possible to have probate in more than one state. On top of that, the proceeds from real property, i.e., a family home may not available to distribute until the probate has been open for 12 months.

See more of our Client Testimonials (click here)

Revocable Living Trusts

The two primary advantages of the revocable trust are that trust starts to work the day it is signed and trust does not go through probate.

A Revocable Trust is based on the law of contracts. A trust provides guidelines for how somebody (the Trustee) is supposed to manage assets while an individual is alive and healthy, in the event of incapacity and after death. Typically, you are the Trustee of your own trust. You choose a successor Trustee to take over in the event of your incapacity or death. Virginia trust law is based on the Uniform Trust Code (UTC).  Virginia enacted the UTC in 2006.  Most of the states have also enacted the UTC.  It makes it much easier for trust to move from state to state.  If your documents were written before 2006 you might want to consider updating your trust to comply with the new law.

For all intents and purposes, you and the trust are the same. The Trust uses your social security number. Your tax rate does not change. You do not pay a higher property tax. You have complete control over all of your assets. You can sell your assets you can move assets in and out of your trust at will.

A Trust works by taking title to the owners’ assets. Instead of owning a house in the name of Thomas and Susan Smith, the title would be Thomas Smith and Susan Smith Trustees of the Smith Revocable Trust Dated when you become our client.

Benefits of a Revocable Trust

A revocable trust avoids probate and allows the trustee to quickly administer the estate to the beneficiaries. A trust-based estate plan protects the inheritance of a loved one by giving the trustee the option to postpone the distribution. It is useful to protect the beneficiary’s assets from creditors who might go after children’s money or in case of a child going through a divorce. The soon to be ex cannot make a claim on your child’s inheritance as long as the money stays in trust.

Married couples can use a joint revocable trust saving them from having to split marital assets to fund two separate trusts. This type of planning also avoids retitling after the death of the first spouse. Most importantly it allows for maximum flexibility to tax plan if necessary. Additionally, a trust can hold assets from multiple states.

Many clients come to our firm unhappy with their first trust-based plan because the attorney wrote two separate trusts and had the couple split up all of their assets. Upon the death of the first spouse often times there needs to be retitling of assets to the surviving spouse’s trust. Married couples do not want to do that. We are always pleased to tell our clients that they can have a joint trust in Virginia. Our lead attorney who meets clients in our Vienna, Leesburg, or Richmond offices is an expert on joint trust planning. Rhonda Miller has taught continuing legal education on joint trust in a common law jurisdiction and served as an expert witness. The Virginia estate planning attorneys at DBL can assist you with drafting a joint trust.

Regardless if you use a will-based plan or a trust-based plan you also need a financial Power of Attorney (click here) and Health Care Power of Attorney (click here).

Complex Estate Issues & Strategies (click below to learn more)

  • Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) for spouses or children who may require more advanced planning
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs) which secure a planned income stream, structure tax savings, pass wealth to your loved ones, and benefit your charities of choice
  • Generation Skipping Trusts (GSTs) to manage estate tax
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) to establish a specific personal revenue stream while creating a vehicle to transfer wealth during your lifetime (using the leverage available under the Internal Revenue Code)
  • Family Limited Partnerships (FLPs) to hold various assets and create gifting plans, while retaining your influence and management over those assets
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT) to help reduce or eliminate your estate tax
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRT)
  • Qualified plan trusts to pass on pre-tax dollar earnings and maximize growth potential (IRA, 401(k), SEP accounts)
  • Complex real estate holding plans, Guardianships, and Sub Trusts