This year’s legislative and judicial activity surrounding wills, trusts, and estates did not bring any radical shifts in the law, but rather expansions and clarifications. In the legislative realm, the bulk of the activity centered on expanding protections for parties under guardianship, with a sensitivity to safeguarding vulnerable parties from neglect or even predation. The new rules aim to increase transparency in process, preserve confidential financial information, and ensure minimums of care and contact. The rules affect these goals by providing for more transparency through notice requirements as well as required written filings. Moreover, they protect parties under guardianship by mandating a certain number of visits from a guardian or other appropriate person and creating processes to protect those under guardianship from financial or other forms of abuse. Other legislation expands available methods for funeral service providers to recoup costs and addresses spousal liability for medical expenses.

In terms of judicial activity, while the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals of Virginia did not hand down many reported decisions relating to wills and trusts this year, the reported and unreported opinions provided by the courts offer helpful reminders regarding the importance of clear, unambiguous drafting. Moreover, these cases help highlight the potential downsides to using boilerplate and internet-purchased templates for an individual’s estate planning. And, aside from those practical reminders, the court of appeals continued to build on Virginia’s jurisprudence on no contest clauses and provisions, settling the question of whether good faith and probable cause exceptions are permitted under Virginia law.