Mathews Law will help you get your documents signed so that you can move on with your life!

The “signing” simply refers to the execution of your new estate plan.

Mathews Law offers two options: You can have the signing at the office of Mathews Law, located in Old Town, Alexandria, or you can have it from the comfort of your own home.

If you choose to execute your documents at the Mathews Law office in Alexandria, the signing will consist of a notary and two witnesses, Lisa Mathews, Esq. and you. 

If you choose to have the signing in your home, the signing will consist of a remote notary public who will come to your home, two witnesses, and you. You will meet with Lisa Mathews, Esq. for a “pre-signing meeting” beforehand so that we can answer all of your questions and prepare you for the signing.

You will need to bring the following to the signing: A valid photo ID, such as passport or driver’s license.

Most signings take about 10-15 minutes but can take a little longer.

Mathews Law is here to answer any question you have along the way! Whether you have no questions or 100 questions, we are here to help you!

If you would like help creating an Estate Plan, please reach out to Mathews Law, PLLC by clicking here or call us anytime (24/7) at 866.980.0838.

If you are an existing client and have a specific question, please let us know at admin@mathewslawpllc.com.


Decided where your assets should go after you die is one of the primary purposes of an estate plan.

One of the most common questions people have is who should be their beneficiaries. The good news is this decision is entirely up to you. Your assets can go entirely to one person, to multiple people, or even to a charity or a trust.

Below, you can download a PDF to help you with this process. We recommend downloading the PDF and making note of your decisions as you walk through the following steps.

Step 1: Make a list of the people who should receive your assets when you die. These people are your primary beneficiaries.

Step 2: Decide what percent of your assets should go to each beneficiary. Your beneficiaries can receive 100% of your assets, or you can divide the assets up. For example, you can leave 50% of your assets to your sister and 50% of your assets to your best friend.

Step 3: Decide what should happen to the money if the beneficiary you chose dies before you do. These people are your secondary beneficiaries.

Keep in mind:

  • It is better to indicate what percentage of assets should go to each beneficiary instead of a specific dollar amount, because you do not know what your assets will be worth when you die.  However, some choose to give away a dollar amount to certain beneficiaries before providing instructions about the remaining assets.  This is up to you!
  • Some assets will not be transferred to beneficiaries based on the instructions in your will. This includes things like: retirement accounts (401K, 403b, 457, pension, IRA), life insurance, annuities, and transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) accounts. For these assets, you need to provide instructions directly to the financial institution.

An example of how to use this worksheet is below:

If you would like help creating an Estate Plan, please reach out to Mathews Law, PLLC for a free consultation by clicking here or calling 866.980.0838 any time – 24 hours a day!

If you are an existing client and have a specific question, please let us know at admin@mathewslawpllc.com.


This is your plan and changes can be made when needed. 

Before Signing

If you are a current client and need to make changes to the documents before signing, simply let Mathews Law, PLLC know of the changes that need to be made. We will update your draft and send it to you for review before your signing date. 

Updates made before signing are included in the service package you have selected.

After Signing

Life happens and sometimes you need to make changes after you’ve signed your will or other documents. All documents are revocable and amendable at any time! For example, if you divorce or re-marry, you may want to update beneficiaries to include stepchildren. In this situation, a new estate plan would be needed. Contact us to let us know what changes you need, and we will create a new customized plan for you that includes your updated instructions. 

Updates made after your signing require a new service package. 

If you would like help creating an Estate Plan, please set up a free consultation

If you are an existing client and have a specific question, please let us know at admin@mathewslawpllc.com.


Your decision-makers will be responsible for ensuring your plan is followed and your wishes are honored. 

Here’s a description of the types of decision-makers in an estate plan:

  • Medical Power of Attorney (or Medical Agent): Someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. This person only makes medical decisions during periods when you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own.

    This person should be someone that you would trust to consider your needs and make choices based on what you would likely decide if you could speak for yourself. Should you be unable to make medical decisions, your Medical Power of Attorney will speak with your medical providers, consider your wishes, review your Advance Medical Directive, and provide consent and instructions to medical providers responsible for your care.
  • Financial Power of Attorney (or Financial Agent): Someone to make financial decisions for you as needed. This person will be able to make non-medical decisions for you if you are unable to.  For example, your Financial Power of Attorney can move funds to finance your medical care or pay your bills if you become incapacitated. 
  • Personal Representative: Someone to wrap up your affairs after you die. This person will be responsible for reviewing the instructions you have left in your will and ensure your wishes are carried out when you die. This will include tasks such as closing your accounts, paying off any final debts, and handing the probate process.
  • Guardian: Someone to take care of your kids after you die (if you have minor children). This person will take care of your minor children if you die. They will step in as a parent and handle all related responsibilities. This includes things like providing for their needs, making schooling decisions, and determining medical care until your children are 18. This person should be someone you trust to step into this role.
  • Trustee: Someone to manage the assets of your trust (should you decide to create a trust). This person is responsible for ongoing trust administration if you decide to hold assets in a trust to be distributed to your beneficiaries at a later time. Or this person will distribute the assets to your beneficiaries upon your death if that is your wish.

If you would like help creating an Estate Plan, please reach set up a free consultation here.

If you are an existing client and have a specific question, please let us know at admin@mathewslawpllc.com.


Decision-makers are those who will make decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself. These decision-makers are needed if you become disabled or when you die. Take the time to determine who decision-makers are early in the process to prevent delay. Prior to your consultation, we recommend determining both your primary and back-up decision-makers. You will need decision-makers for:

  • Medical Power of Attorney: Someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. 
  • Financial Power of Attorney: Someone to make financial decisions for you as needed.
  • Personal Representative: Someone to wrap up your affairs after you die.
  • Guardian: Someone to take care of your kids after you die (if you have minor children).
  • Trustee: Someone to manage the assets of your trust (should you decide to create a trust).

Keep in mind:

  • You may want to discuss the role with your preferred individuals to see if they are comfortable assuming this responsibility.
  • It is okay for the same individuals to perform multiple roles. However, make sure to consider who is most suited to perform each role. 
  • For each decision-maker, it is a good idea to name a back-up person. It is not mandatory to do this. However, it is best to have someone else already named if your first choice is unable to perform his or her responsibilities.

If you would like help creating an Estate Plan, please set up an appointment with Lisa Mathews, Esq. We would love to meet you!

If you are an existing client and have a specific question, please let us know at admin@mathewslawpllc.com.

Mathews Law is ready to help you with your estate planning needs!


Say you have minor kids, you pass away, and you leave money to be used for the benefit of your children (who are now under the full care of your ex). One option is, of course, to leave the money to your kids such that your ex manages the funds while the children are minors.

If you trust your ex, this is a viable option. Many people divorce and maintain trusting relationships with their ex-spouses.

Or…you can create a trust.

A trust can protect your assets from your ex’s control, even if your ex has custody of the children

A trust allows you to designate someone other than your ex – known as a trustee – to manage your money and only distribute funds for the benefit of your children as you have defined in the trust document. You can be creative with when and how the funds are distributed.

You can even specifically state that your ex is never to be named trustee.

A trust can keep your children’s information private

When a will is presented to the court after someone dies (which is required for the probate process to occur), it becomes a public document. Any information, including the names of your children or other beneficiaries, can be obtained by anyone.

A trust avoids the probate process (the process where the court oversees how your assets are settled after your death) and therefore protects the identity of your beneficiaries.

A trust allows you to customize how assets are received by your children.

You can choose to direct your assets to help influence your children toward long-term goals, such as getting a college education or purchasing a home. You can state that funds are to be used for that purpose. You can also instruct the trustee to pay out funds to your children when they reach a certain age (like 35) if you think that inheriting funds at a younger age may be too early for them.

A trust is completely revocable and can be altered at any time while you are alive.

Some parents feel that once they put something on paper, it is set in stone. Not true. A revocable living trust can be amended or even revoked at any time. You can provide instructions based on your current situation, and then decide you want to insert new instructions as circumstances change.

Parents who believe that trusts are only for very wealthy people should look again at the benefits that a trust can offer.

To schedule a free consultation, contact us at (703) 215-2088.


There are multiple ways that people leave money to ex spouses, and some may surprise you.

Leaving your ex in your will after you are separated.

You decided the marriage needs to end, but you haven’t divorced yet, so you are separated from your spouse. You die. Surely the court knows that you don’t want your stuff to go to him or her! This is wrong, however, because if you were still married (even if you had filed for divorce already), your assets would go to your spouse if he or she is named in your will. (Or, even if not, see the prior post).

Virginia does have a law that automatically removes enforcement of a named spousal beneficiary (or personal representative) after the divorce is final, but not before. Note that there is no such thing as legal separation in Virginia.

Forgetting to update beneficiary designations after you separate or divorce.

When you die, the beneficiary designations you have made on any of your retirement or other financial accounts will most likely be followed, even if you had already divorced and did not remove your ex’s name.

Again, you might think, “Wouldn’t they know that I would not have wanted my money to go to someone I had divorced?”

Well, not really. Once you are gone, there is no way to know what you wanted done with your assets other than the instructions that you left with the financial institution.

So, it is vital that you update these designations as soon as you separate from your ex (even before the divorce is final) to make it crystal clear who should get your money.

Beneficiary designations should be updated for the following financial accounts:

  • Employer retirement plans
  • Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA)
  • Life insurance
  • Annuities
  • Health savings accounts
  • Transfer on Death (TOD) investment accounts
  • Payable on Death (POD) bank accounts

Leaving money to minor children.

If you and your ex have minor children together, and you die, the children will not be able to directly inherit any money you have left to them.

And, by operation of law, if you had custody of the children, custody will automatically go to the other parent (unless he or she is unfit for some reason as determined by a judge).

This means that your ex will be able to petition the court to receive access to the funds that you have left for your children. Your ex will likely be named as financial guardian, responsible for handling the funds on behalf of the children.

Depending on your situation, this may or may not be something that you are comfortable with. If not, I describe an alternate strategy in the next article.

To schedule a free consultation, contact Lisa at (866) 980-0838.


You might not think about estate planning when you are in the middle of a divorce – but you should. Remember, one of the primary purposes of estate planning is to make sure that your property goes where you want it to go, while you are alive and after you die. You can’t do this if you haven’t properly handled your property at the time of divorce (or even before). This article answers some common misconceptions about property and divorce.

Misconception #1:

I have separated from my spouse, but we haven’t gone through with the divorce yet. We’ve already divided our property, so what’s mine is mine and what’s my ex’s is my ex’s.


Wrong. As long as you are married, if one of you dies, the other has a right to some of your assets in Virginia. Even if you have a will and you have named someone other than your spouse as a beneficiary, your spouse still has the right to elect to receive up to 50% of your estate if you were married at the time of your death.(The length of marriage and assets of the surviving spouse are taken into account to determine the percentage. See § 64.2-308.3 of the Virginia Code).

Virginia also allows the surviving spouse to receive other allowances from the assets of the decedent spouse’s estate (family allowance, exempt property allowance, and homestead allowance).

Bottom line, you are legally bound to each other as long as you are married, unless you both have signed a valid marital agreement waiving these rights (see next misconception).

Misconception #2:

My spouse and I are amicably separated and have already divided our assets, so we don’t need a marital separation agreement.


Wrong. You should create a marital separation agreement and ensure that your soon-to-be ex specifically waives any claim to the assets that are yours. A marital separation agreement (sometimes called a property settlement agreement) is a document that defines who gets what in a divorce. It is binding the same way any contract is binding and is fully enforceable in court. This agreement becomes part of the divorce order that the judge signs.

These agreements are very important because they specifically define which assets belong to whom (and who is responsible for marital debt). While many divorcing couples may believe that the divorce (and post-divorce) will go smoothly, the fact is, this cannot possibly be known. Parties to a divorce change their positions regularly given all of the emotion involved, and having a written agreement will protect you in case this happens.

Misconception #3:

My ex and I have all of our property divided in the divorce decree, so I don’t need to retitle my assets.


Wrong. A decree is simply the judgment of the court, but it does not have the effect of actually retitling the property itself. For instance, if a home is owned by both spouses and the court orders that the home be given to one spouse, then a deed needs to be executed that transfers the ownership of the home to that spouse only. Bank account assets need to be retitled, too. So does any debt.

Having properly executed documents and retitling property can save you a lot of grief during and after your divorce.

To schedule a free consultation, contact Lisa at (866) 980-0838.


What is probate?

Probate is the court-managed process of settling an estate. The court oversees the process from start to finish. First, the court will review the will, if there is one, and appoint a personal representative(person who has authority to act on the estate’s behalf). Second, the personal representative must file accountings to the Commissioner of Accounts, a lawyer who has been appointed to conduct oversight on the estates in a particular jurisdiction. The paperwork that must be submitted to the Commissioner of Accounts is very detailed and must include copies of bank statements and other documents which show where all estate assets are held. This accounting occurs annually until the estate is settled. Each accounting costs a fee which has to be paid to the Commissioner of Accounts.

The Commissioner of Accounts serves as an auditor to ensure that estate funds are handled appropriately and settled prior to the closing of the estate. The process can be somewhat onerous.

What estates or assets are subject to probate?

The probate process is not required for any assets that:

1) Are held in trust

2) Are transferred via POD (payable on death) or TOD (transfer of death) accounts

3) Transferred directly to a beneficiary (such as a401k or IRA)

4) Held within a small estate, defined as not exceeding $50,000 in assets. (Virginia has a streamlined process for smaller estates).

What is the cost of probate?

There is a cost between $0 and $30 dollars for the court to review and qualify the will and also to appoint a personal representative.

The accountings to the Commissioner of Accounts are more costly with the initial filing fee costing from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the size of the estate. The subsequent accountings can cost up to $275 each time(required annually). Click here to see the fee schedule in place now.

A bond is often required to be posted by the personal representative which also requires an annual security fee to the bond company (the amount depends on the size of the bond which is determined by the size of the estate).

What are the pros and cons of allowing my estate to go through the probate process?

The probate process can be costly and frustrating, especially for medium to large estates. All wills presented to the court for probate also become public record, so they can be viewed by anyone. However, thousands of estates go through the probate process regularly. If you decide that you do not want to create a trust, the best option is to make sure that as many assets as possible are not subject to the probate process(such as by setting up POD/TOD accounts where assets transfer directly to your desired beneficiary or beneficiaries).

Contact Lisa Mathews to schedule your free consultation today at (866) 980-0838.


The best answer is: it depends. A trust is a wonderful tool that brings a lot of peace of mind, but it may not be right for your individual situation.

What is a trust?

A trust is an entity that holds assets for your benefit and the benefit of beneficiaries. The trust document defines the powers granted to the trustee (the person who executes terms of the trust) and the parameters by which assets are distributed.

Trusts are versatile in that they allow for very tailored planning for a disability during your life and asset transfers after your death.

Do the instructions in the trust document apply to all of my assets?

The instructions in the trust document only apply to any assets owned by the trust. Assets must be titled into the name of the trust to be subject to the terms of the trust document. Therefore, trusts require a bit of work when they are created to ensure that assets are retitled appropriately.

But, it is important to note that assets retitled to the trust are managed exactly as they were before and remain under your complete control as the trustee. Once you die or become incapacitated, your named back-up (successor) trustee becomes responsible to manage the trust assets according to your wishes in the trust document (no court involvement required).

What should I consider in deciding if I need a trust?

Those who want a simpler initial process when creating an estate plan and who do not seek the other benefits of a trust may choose to simply execute a will. Wills do serve an important purpose, though they have some disadvantages to a trust (see the graphic at the bottom of the page).

A major disadvantage associated with wills is the probate process that most estates must adhere to.

Many people choose to establish a trust if they have minor children, or any children who are not yet mature enough to inherit assets. Because a trust can hold assets for many years, it is common for people to direct that their children receive their inherited assets at an age older than 18 or 21. For instance, a trust may instruct that children will receive half of the inherited assets at the age of 25 and the other half at, say 30 or 35. While the children are younger, the trust defines who is responsible to make payments for the children’s expenses and what types of expenses can be paid by the trust. Such flexibility is not available in a will alone and provides peace of mind to parents who do not want their children to blow all of their money at the age of 18.

Who should consider a trust?

A trust should be seriously considered if:

  • You have minor children.
  • You desire for your real estate to be divided among multiple beneficiaries.
  • One or more of your beneficiaries has special needs.
  • You want to protect the identities of your beneficiaries.
  • You do not want your beneficiaries to have to deal with the probate process after your death.
  • You want to ensure someone can easily manage your assets for you if you become unable to manage them yourself.
  • You have a smaller estate.
  • You do not have minor children.
  • You do not have real estate or you have executed a “transfer on death” deed (which transfers ownership immediately upon your death to a beneficiary).

To schedule a free consultation, contact Lisa at (866) 980-0838​.