The Ruddy Law Firm

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Most people usually think about who will receive their retirement and bank accounts, life insurance proceeds, real estate, and other valuable possessions upon their death. However, a person’s personal property (their stuff) can also be a source of value that needs to be addressed. When looking to start or continue your estate planning journey, ask yourself the following questions about your personal property.

Do your items have monetary or sentimental value?

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Some items may have significant monetary value, like an antique clock, while others may have sentimental value, like your grandmother’s class ring. Each type of value necessitates its own strategy when planning for its receipt.

If Personal Property Has Monetary Value:

It is important that you find out the actual value of items that you think may be worth a lot of money. If an item is very valuable, it may need to be insured. A renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy may limit what it covers and how much it will pay if your personal property is damaged or stolen. Also, if the item requires maintenance or upkeep, you must make sure that the person who receives it understands what is required so that the value does not decrease.

If Personal Property Has Sentimental Value:

Sometimes personal property that has sentimental value can cause the most family conflict. Because your loved ones will already be dealing with your loss, dividing up your mementos without proper guidance can also be emotionally taxing. This may be an even more compelling reason to document your wishes, so that everyone is on the same page. You should think carefully about who will receive sentimental items and ways to mitigate future conflicts if more than one person wants the item.

Will Someone Want Your Stuff?

When crafting your estate plan, it is important to understand what you have and who you want to leave it to. But you may also want to speak with your beneficiaries before creating your plan to find out if the person you plan to give an item to actually wants the item, particularly if the item has storage or maintenance requirements that the person will be responsible for.

If More Than One Person Wants an Item:

You may have an item that multiple people want. Being aware of this during your estate planning journey is important so you can address what you want to happen to the item to hopefully prevent conflict after you pass away. You should also think about how you want to balance inheritances if only one person will receive a valuable item or how you want to divide a large group of similar items. Talk to your loved ones so that everyone is on the same page and fights can be avoided.

If No One Wants an Item:

While an item may be incredibly important to you, it may not hold the same level of importance to your loved ones. As you take steps to put a plan together, determine what will happen if no one wants an item. You could choose to have it be sold, donated, or offered to an acquaintance with a similar fondness for the item.

We Can Help:

Once you know what you have, how much it is worth, and who you want to leave it to, you need to make sure that your wishes are reflected in an estate plan that is complete and legally enforceable. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney, we can craft a plan that is unique to you and your situation. Give us a call at 703-383-9000 to schedule your appointment.

Our firm’s primary objective is to help clients achieve their business and personal goals by offer

Reflecting on the passing year, we want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of our clients, colleagu...

Reflecting on the passing year, we want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of our clients, colleagues, and friends. As we welcome the dawn of 2024, we wish you a very Happy New Year. May the coming months bring you moments of tranquility, simple joys, and the quiet satisfaction of your endeavors. Your support has made our journey truly special, and we look forward to continuing this journey with you in the coming year.

How much stuff is too much? Most Americans would probably admit that they own too many things. From clothes to electroni...

How much stuff is too much? Most Americans would probably admit that they own too many things. From clothes to electronics to sports equipment to collectibles, the typical US house is stuffed to the brim with items of questionable utility.

On occasion, we may commit to decluttering, only to get overwhelmed or distracted. Meanwhile, the stuff keeps piling up. But at some point, it is necessary to deal with everything we have accumulated over our lifetime.

If you do not declutter your house, somebody else will have to do it when you die. This is part of the thinking behind Swedish death cleaning, a morbid-sounding practice that is actually quite liberating, both for ourselves and our loved ones.

Minimalism, Tidying Up, and Death Cleaning:
Counterbalancing the American tendency toward materialism is the minimalist lifestyle trend. Minimalism dates back to an avant-garde art movement that began in 1960s New York. As a way of life, minimalism emphasizes living with less and being happy with what you already have.

Millennials recently overtook baby boomers as the country’s largest living generation. But it is boomers who are the target of the latest chapter in minimalism: Swedish death cleaning.

A popular concept in Swedish and Scandinavian culture, Swedish death cleaning was introduced to an American audience with the 2017 release of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

In the book, author Margareta Magnusson urges those 65 and older to take part in the practice, which comes from the Swedish word döstädning, a combination of dö (death) and standing (cleaning). “Visit storage areas and start pulling out what’s there,” Magnusson writes in the book. “Who do you think will take care of all that when you are no longer here?”

The Benefits of Swedish Death Cleaning:
The primary goal of Swedish death cleaning is to spare loved ones the burden of clearing out our stuff when we die. Magnusson recommends categorizing possessions by those you can easily get rid of, such as clothes you no longer wear, unwanted gifts, and excess kitchen items, and those you might want to keep, like old letters, photographs, and your children’s artwork.

Magnusson, though, does not emphasize a rigorous approach or definitive checklist. She encourages readers to develop their own method and focus on personal goals for Swedish death cleaning. It is a highly personal exercise that is intended to be uplifting rather than daunting.

Throughout the book, she reiterates the personal benefits of death cleaning, calling it a “permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” And she adds that you might even find the process itself enjoyable.

Your loved ones, however, may not understand why you would want to undertake something called “death cleaning,” even though it benefits them. Especially if you are still in good health, it might disturb them that you are systematically eliminating stuff from your life in anticipation of dying.

There might also be items your friends and family would rather inherit than see you get rid of. Inviting them to take part in your decluttering journey could make the process go smoother. Together, you can sort through things and reflect on the memories they spark. If they want something, let them have it.

Along the way, they may develop an appreciation for minimalism and decluttering. They might even decide to undertake their own death cleaning and receive a wellness boost that becomes part of your legacy.

Death Cleaning and Estate Planning:
Estate planning, like death cleaning, makes life easier for our loved ones after we die. An estate plan leaves nothing to chance. It creates a written record of your final wishes that minimizes court involvement and eliminates questions about what you would have wanted.

We cannot help you with death cleaning. But we can help you create an estate plan that simplifies asset disposition for your heirs and gives you peace of mind. To get your plans in order, schedule a meeting with our office.


You can create your estate plan at any time, but many people choose to begin the process sooner rather than later. Why? Because you never know when life-changing medical or financial emergencies can strike that will require someone else to manage your affairs during your lifetime.

When Should You Start?

When to start planning for your estate depends on your goals and the size and complexity of your estate. If your estate involves business interests, multiple properties, significant investments, or complex family dynamics, creating a comprehensive plan may require more time.

While there is no specific age requirement to create an estate plan, at a minimum, you should create financial and medical powers of attorney when you legally become an adult. Once you accumulate some money and property, you should create a more comprehensive estate plan. Many young adults start families and have minor children who rely on them for support, which could require a guardianship being established for the children should something happen to both parents. Consequently, when you have minor children, you need to create a plan.

Is It Possible to Plan Too Far in Advance?

There is a balance. Estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts, should be clear and concise to avoid confusion and disputes. Planning too far in advance might lead to numerous “ifs” and conditional clauses that can complicate or confuse your intentions. The more complex your situation becomes, the greater the potential for misunderstandings among your beneficiaries and those responsible for executing your wishes.

Life is inherently unpredictable, and your financial situation, family structure, and personal goals may change rapidly. Many foundational estate planning documents, such as wills and revocable living trusts, can be amended or revoked during your lifetime. Planning specific details too far in advance might result in more frequent revisions and unnecessary costs.

Estate Planning Is an Ongoing Process:

While there is no specific timeframe for creating your estate plan, starting early and periodically reviewing your plan is recommended. Focus on what is important today, knowing your estate plan is flexible and adaptable to future changes. Doing this ensures your plan will always reflect your values, provide for your loved ones, and secure your legacy.

We can guide you through the process of developing a plan that suits your unique circumstances and goals. You can reach us at 703-383-9000.

Our firm’s primary objective is to help clients achieve their business and personal goals by offer

Unfortunately, rifts sometimes arise between spouses that are much more serious than just temporary squabbles. The resul...

Unfortunately, rifts sometimes arise between spouses that are much more serious than just temporary squabbles. The result may be estrangement, defined as “the state of being alienated or separated in feeling or affection; a state of hostility or unfriendliness” or “the state of being separated or removed.” Estrangement does not mean that the relationship has come to an end legally, however.

These types of situations are unfortunate and occur more often than we would like. You may be surprised to learn that limited contact, or even the absence of any contact, will not have a major impact on the legal right of an estranged spouse to inherit from their family member, especially if there is no estate plan expressing an intention to disinherit them.

Intestate succession statutes: If the deceased spouse did not have an estate plan in place, the surviving spouse is legally entitled to inherit from the deceased spouse as set forth in their state’s intestate succession law even if the spouses are estranged—and in many states, even if they are legally separated. Intestate succession laws provide a default estate plan representing the state’s view of the fairest distribution of a deceased person’s money and property. In many states, if the estranged couple did not have any children, the surviving spouse will likely inherit the entire estate of the deceased spouse—even if they despised each other and had not seen each other for many years.

If there were children from the union, the surviving spouse and children may each receive a portion of the estate as set forth in the intestate succession statute; in community property states, even if the couple had children, the spouse may inherit all community property, although any separate property may be divided between the surviving spouse and the children.

Pretermitted spouse statutes: Some states have another type of statute that is intended to protect a spouse who is unintentionally omitted from a will, for example, if the will was created prior to the marriage and was never amended to provide for the spouse. These laws typically provide that unless the will expresses an intention to disinherit the surviving spouse, the spouse will inherit the amount they would have received under the intestacy statute if the spouse had died without a will. Therefore, depending on the circumstances, even if an estranged spouse’s deceased spouse had a will that did not provide for them, the estranged spouse may be entitled to inherit some or all of the deceased spouse’s property if there is no express statement in the will of the deceased spouse’s intention to disinherit them.

Elective share statutes: Even if the deceased spouse created a will that expressly indicates an intention to completely or partially disinherit their spouse, the state’s elective share statute typically protects the surviving spouse to some degree.

This type of statute allows a spouse to elect to inherit a certain percentage—often ranging from thirty to fifty percent—of their deceased spouse’s estate regardless of what the deceased spouse’s will says. In some states, the surviving spouse is only allowed to take their elective share from the probate estate, which excludes money and property that have been transferred to a trust, insurance policies, and retirement or financial accounts that name other beneficiaries. Other states have laws that include both the probate estate and other accounts or property the deceased spouse owned; these laws provide that the surviving spouse’s elective share can be calculated based on a larger pool of assets called the augmented estate.

As a result of the intestacy and elective share laws, an estranged spouse is likely to be protected from complete disinheritance in the absence of other planning.

Ways to Address Estrangement In Your Estate Plan:

Those who do not want an estranged spouse to inherit from them should create an estate plan that includes a will expressly stating that intention or a trust that does not include the estranged spouse as a beneficiary. As mentioned, a spouse can inherit the amount allowed under the elective share statute regardless of the terms of the deceased spouse’s will. To avoid litigation by the estranged spouse, the will could provide for an inheritance in the amount the surviving spouse would be entitled to receive as their elective share or the “statutory minimum.”

In states in which the surviving spouse’s elective share is limited to the probate estate, beneficiaries other than the estranged spouse can be named to receive assets such as retirement accounts, money and property held in trusts, and life insurance policies. Other strategies, such as lifetime gifts and prenuptial or other marital agreements may also be used to limit or waive the spouse’s right to inherit an elective share.

Take Steps to Memorialize the State of the Relationship:

For estranged spouses, doing what is required to legally end the relationship is another way to avoid unintended results when one of the spouses dies. After divorce, the surviving former spouse is not entitled to inherit any amount from the deceased former spouse unless there is a property settlement agreement providing otherwise. Depending on state law, even if the surviving former spouse is still a beneficiary in the deceased former spouse’s will, they may not be entitled to inherit pursuant to the will unless there is additional documentation showing that the deceased former spouse intended that result. As mentioned above, the effect of legal separation varies depending on state law: in some states, legal separation has no impact on a spouse’s right to inherit under the intestacy or elective share statute.

We Can Help!
One of the important goals of estate planning is to ensure that your wishes are carried out. If you want to prevent an estranged spouse from inheriting from you, your estate plan needs to expressly state that intention. We can help you think through how to best accomplish your estate planning goals while also minimizing any further strife in your family. Give us a call today to set up an appointment. You can reach us at 703-383-9000.

As we gather around the table this Thanksgiving, our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to help famili...

As we gather around the table this Thanksgiving, our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to help families secure their legacies and protect their loved ones. Wishing you a day of abundance, gratitude, and the peace of mind that comes with a well-planned future. Happy Thanksgiving to all our clients and friends! 🦃

It is normal for married couples to share almost every aspect of their lives with each other. But when it comes to death...

It is normal for married couples to share almost every aspect of their lives with each other. But when it comes to death, even the closest couples might become tight-lipped about certain topics. According to one study, half of all couples fail to discuss their dying wishes. Death is final for the departed. For the surviving spouse, death can leave unanswered questions.

Location of Important Documents:

Older couples tend to commingle their finances. Among baby boomers, having only joint accounts is the norm. Millennial and Gen Z couples, however, are more likely to keep their money separate.

When couples do have joint accounts and property, it is not uncommon for one spouse to handle all financial matters. When one spouse is the “money person” in the relationship, it can create issues in both life and death. To avoid unnecessary stress, couples need to ensure that they are on the same page. With regard to estate planning, couples should keep each other informed about the location of important documents such as the following:

● Estate planning documents
● Life insurance paperwork
● Loan documents
● Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
● Usernames, passwords, and other information for accessing digital accounts and assets

This might be more difficult in community property states—where spouses are considered joint owners of most accounts, property, and debts acquired during marriage—barring a marital or property agreement stating the contrary. In states that follow common law, spouses are allowed to own property individually and are not considered jointly responsible for accounts and property except for those listed under both spouses’ names. But even in community property states, accounts and property that predate the marriage and those that are inherited are usually considered separate property.

Contact Information:

A spouse will often be the first person to find out about their partner’s passing. After that, there may be an established priority of whom to contact next on a need-to-know basis. The surviving spouse is likely to have a good idea of who should be contacted and in more or less what order. It may not be particularly important whether an older sibling is informed before or after a younger sibling or vice versa.

Yet it should not be assumed that a husband or wife has access to these individuals’ phone numbers. Nowadays, most contact information is stored in a personal device, not a Rolodex. To ensure that this information is accessible, it can be listed in a separate document. Alternatively, each spouse can give the other their phone’s login credentials.

Outside of immediate family and friends, a spouse could be unsure about whom to get in touch with. Extended family, a religious leader, club members, professional contacts, and, if the deceased was still working, their employer may need to be contacted as well. Some people might be named in the will and require inheritance notifications. Keeping a spouse apprised of relationship statuses, whom to get in touch with, and how to get in touch with them about end-of-life wishes are small but important estate planning points.

Burial Arrangements:

Arguably the most morbid thought about death is what to do with someone’s remains. At the same time, following a person’s burial preferences is a way to ensure that they receive an appropriate send-off. More Americans are choosing to be cremated instead of having a traditional burial. Whichever someone chooses, options for personal touches abound.

If cremated, a person may wish to have their ashes scattered in a favorite place. In the case of a burial, they may opt not to have an open casket. There are also natural burials (being buried without a casket) and funeral services without a body present.

In some states, the surviving spouse has the primary authority to make these decisions, absent specific instructions by the deceased. As unpleasant as it can be to discuss burial, cremation, or donation, doing so can offer the departed—and the surviving spouse—peace of mind that this most personal of decisions is honored.

Show Love with a Thorough Estate Plan:

Our passing can create complications for those we leave behind. Not having an estate plan takes the control over your accounts and property out of your family’s hands and gives it to the state. But an incomplete plan can cause problems too.

Small estate planning gaps can raise big questions that leave a person’s legacy in doubt. It is never too late to revisit and update an estate plan while you are alive. But unresolved estate issues taken to the grave could come back to haunt your loved ones.

Estate planning is a gift to your spouse and the best way to take care of them when you are no longer around. To show them love, contact our office and schedule an appointment.

The United States hosts the highest number of immigrants in the world, but increasingly, Americans say they are looking ...

The United States hosts the highest number of immigrants in the world, but increasingly, Americans say they are looking to relocate permanently to another country. A large percentage of wealthy Americans are also interested in buying real estate overseas and living there at least part-time.

While moving overseas is often a lifestyle decision, the practical implications of living abroad, including taxation and estate planning issues, cannot be ignored. Escaping Uncle Sam is not as easy as hopping on a plane to a far-flung location. Americans living overseas retain financial obligations to the US government.

Expatriates who live and own assets (accounts and property) in more than one country need an estate plan that reflects their international life. This may require working with estate planning attorneys in each country where they have assets.

Living Abroad and Double Taxation:

Double taxation means that US citizens living abroad could end up paying income tax twice on the same income—once to their home country and once to their host country. Double taxation may apply to estate taxes as well.

There are a few ways expatriates can avoid US double estate taxation. The most extreme way is to renounce US citizenship, a move that nearly one in four expats say they would consider. Another option is to take advantage of the foreign death tax credit, which allows expats with property located in a foreign country to claim a credit on estate, inheritance, legacy, or inheritance tax paid to a foreign government.

Trusts can also reduce estate tax liabilities. Different types of trusts can be used for this purpose, including irrevocable life insurance trusts, charitable remainder trusts, and qualified personal residence trusts. But because some countries do not recognize trusts, a trust set up in the United States may not be valid in those countries.

Guardianship and Power of Attorney for Expats:

Living overseas can create legal complications that are best addressed in an estate plan. For example, the parents of minor children living overseas may have a guardianship provision in their will that names a US resident as guardian in the event that both parents pass away. If the guardian is not a resident of the country where the children live, though, the children might have to be moved back to the United States.

Additionally, without a legally recognized guardian accompanying them, minor children cannot typically leave the country in which they reside. Alternatively, a person in the host country could be named as a guardian in the will. Estate plans should name backup guardians to supplement the first-choice guardian.

Regardless of whom the parents nominate, the local court and laws determine who will take care of the children. For families living abroad, a local court, not a US court, could have authority over the matter. Expat parents should understand which laws apply to guardianship issues and ensure that, if there are multiple wills effective in different countries, guardianship provisions are clear and do not conflict.

Financial Power of Attorney:

Expats who retain US assets need somebody who can perform financial transactions for them while they are out of the country. Actions like selling property, opening and closing accounts, and registering vehicles cannot always be done remotely. Giving a trusted person a power of attorney lets them transact on an expat’s behalf. A power of attorney can be open-ended or limited and revoked at any time.

Medical Powers of Attorney:

A financial power of attorney can be set up to take effect at the time a person becomes incapacitated. But incapacitation raises healthcare questions that can only be addressed through a medical power of attorney, which authorizes a proxy to make medical decisions on another’s behalf. It is advisable to name a medical power of attorney in each country where an expat resides. A US-based power of attorney may not have the authority to make medical decisions in a foreign country.

Does Your Estate Plan Match Your International Lifestyle?

Whether you are living overseas currently, have plans to relocate to a foreign country, or just want to invest in property outside the United States, you will have to adapt to a new culture and new laws, including laws that affect taxation and estate planning. Your US estate plan documents may be inadequate to deal with legal questions raised by expat life, putting your wealth and legacy at risk.

Careful international estate planning can help address the challenges of calling more than one country home. Due to differences in laws, it may be necessary to work with experienced attorneys in each country.

If you are an American abroad, we recommend meeting with our attorneys to see if your estate plan reflects your current circumstances. We can also advise whether you should meet with an attorney in your new country of residence.

If you have recently lost your job, you are not alone! Inflation has skyrocketed in the United States over the past coup...

If you have recently lost your job, you are not alone! Inflation has skyrocketed in the United States over the past couple of years. Some smaller businesses have not been able to survive the increased expenses, putting employees out of work, while many larger companies have laid off employees to reduce their costs. If you are dealing with a job loss, you can transform what you may view as a crisis into an opportunity to take steps to protect yourself and your family.

1. Take a Hard Look at Your Financial Situation

Try not to dwell on the loss; rather, focus on planning for the future. In planning proactively to address both the immediate crisis and your long-term financial wellbeing, it is important to assess the state of your finances. Do everything you can to maximize your resources and minimize your expenses.

Keep in mind that some resources may be available if you were laid off through no fault of your own. Some employers may provide a severance package, and in many cases, unemployment benefits are available for a limited period to tide you over until you find a new job. Depending on state law and your former employer’s policy, a payout of accrued vacation and sick leave may also be a source of liquidity that can sustain you for a while.

If you have an emergency fund, you can rely on those funds first. Keep in mind that withdrawals from checking and savings accounts have no tax consequences. That is not the case for every type of account: if you liquidate a portion of an investment account that has appreciated over time, you may have to pay taxes on any capital gains. Drawing cash out of a retirement account may result in even more tax liability, as the amount withdrawn may be taxed as ordinary income, which could mean a rate much higher than the capital gains rate, and it may be subject to a 10 percent penalty.

You should create a list of your debts and expenses. This will provide you with a fuller picture of your financial situation. If you have expenses that can be temporarily eliminated—subscriptions for streaming services, cable television, yard or house cleaning services, and other luxuries—it is smart to do so sooner rather than later. You can easily reestablish those services if you find another job quickly, but if you continue to spend money on such items, you will have less money available in the future if your job search lasts longer than you anticipate.

You may also be able to work with creditors if you think you will miss a payment or need to make a reduced payment temporarily. They will prefer getting a partial payment rather than no payment, and most will be open to working with you as you look for a new job. However, this may have a negative impact on your credit rating, and you may have to make an effort in the future to increase your score.

2. Update Your Estate Plan

Although you may think about updating your estate plan when your life circumstances change in a positive way—for example, getting a higher-paying job or having a child—you should also update your estate plan when you experience negative changes, such as losing a job. If your life insurance policy was provided by your employer, it will generally terminate when you leave your job. If, for example, you named your trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and were relying on those funds to provide for your loved ones, you may need to review your estate plan and make changes to how much everyone will receive.

3. Create an Estate Plan

An estate plan can protect your accounts and property by minimizing expenses and taxes—leaving more for your family—while also making sure your wishes are followed. Without an estate plan, state law determines who will inherit your property and accounts. A will or trust enables you to choose your beneficiaries and what you want each one to inherit from you. Certain types of trusts can protect your assets from creditors if the trust is established before any creditors’ claims arise.

You can also specify in your will or a separate document who you would like to be the caregiver of your minor children if you are too sick to care for them or if you pass away. Your estate plan should also include important documents such as powers of attorney to authorize individuals you trust to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so and a living will to provide guidance about how you want things to be handled if a medical crisis occurs.

Most importantly, an estate plan provides you and your family with the peace of mind of knowing that if anything happens to you, they will not have to deal with the possibility of family conflicts and difficult decisions during an already stressful time. An estate planning attorney can help you create a basic plan that you can afford now; and, if you choose, you can add to your plan once you have found a job. We are here to help, so please give us a call to schedule a consultation. You can reach us at 703-383-9000.


10427 North Street, Suite 200
Fairfax, VA


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