Yes, Really, You Need a Will

No one really likes to think about what happens with their stuff, or “their estate,” once they pass. But we need to—because our family really needs us to figure all this out ahead of time.


Because they’re going to be sad and grief stinks. Folks often say to me, “Once I’m gone, I don’t care what they do with my stuff.” And while I get it, they care—your family cares—and leaving your kids and spouse, friends and family, without a guidebook for how to grieve and how to share those things that remind them of you behind—can cause them to suffer.

For example, if you have a stepson that you adore, who helps you every weekend with the gutters, the A/C, the trash, and you have a biological son who lives across the country and doesn’t talk to you much, when you pass without a will, that stepson won’t get a thing. Or you got remarried after your first wife passed, and your grown children are doing fine on their own but your second wife is not so well off, she gets an “elective share” of no more than one-third—is that what you really intended? Or if you have a specific wish for how you would like to be buried or not buried—cremated—and your children disagree, it makes sense to give them your wish as a tiebreaker, right?

Why else do you need a will? Because kids fight. Sometimes over money. Sometimes over a painting or a truck or a piece of furniture. I’ve separated siblings squabbling over furniture. We’ve seen like ugly throw-down level fighting, completely out of control craziness when there’s no will. So help ‘em out. Get your will done ahead of time.

There are firms that are situated in Leesburg, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg with presences in Winchester. David Cox, for example, runs Cox Law Group and he’s solid in all respects. David Cox  has offices in Lynchburg and Winchester, among other locations. Hannah Hutman, a 2006 William and Mary grad, works out of Hoover Penrod in Harrisonburg, and I commend you to her: she’s an outstanding bankruptcy lawyer. And the various iterations of Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS), my former employer, offer effective representation to the indigent for both chapter 7 and chapter 13 personal bankruptcies. The most experienced of the legal aid attorneys I’ve worked with is Jim Clough. He’s a good guy and a good lawyer.

Orange Sunset on beach

What Can We Use to Help Your Family?

If you want the basic documents, you should get a will (Last Will and Testament), a durable power of attorney (POA) and an advance medical directive (AMD). A will should be drafted by an attorney—I know they sell wills for a few hundred online, but the cost of getting a will from me or any other local lawyer is not much more—and we will do it right. We know what needs to go in there and what we cannot put in there: for example, you cannot order people to do certain things, like sell an asset someone else owns.


What do I mean? Wife dies. She leaves a will asking her son to sell her house. Problem? She lived in the house with her husband, and he is still alive. He is also the current owner of the house, which they owned together, as husband and wife.          

What’s a POA? Say you’re out of the country. Your son crashed your car. Someone needs to sign a check over to the mechanic from the insurance company. Your agent, the person you designate in your POA, can handle that in your absence. Or more dramatic: you get in a plane crash. You survive! But you’re unable to walk for a bit. So you can’t go to the bank. That’s okay—your agent can go for you and take care of your business. In other words, a durable POA is something that lets you delegate important tasks to someone you really trust.

Jarvis Law Office sign

Finally, an AMD. You may know this as a living will. It’s what doctors and nurses ask you about—just in case something happens to you. Nothing is harder for your family than to make those decisions about whether to pull the plug, or whether to hang on, so please make sure you have made your wishes known. I’ve seen a client suffer because his sister didn’t give guidance to the family before she fell into in a coma. And for real, if you do want to live no matter what, if you believe in miracles, then make sure you get that chance to find your way back from the other side.

Let people know your wishes ahead of time.

Okay, so you need a will, yes? Next week I want to talk about another document we use to help your family out—and also help reduce your taxes and the whole process after you pass.

Please call us to set up an appointment. We charge $800 to draft all three documents (or what we call the “trifecta”) for you. If you’re a couple, the second trifecta’s on us. As in for free.

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Amanda Chaillan

Senior Adviser, Business

Amanda Chaillan earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in English from Chapman University in 2008. Her collegiate study focused on intercultural and global relations, including a research semester at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic and a semester of study at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. She also completed an Executive Certificate in Strategic Management from the Harvard Extension School in 2017.

Amanda’s career has always been at the intersection of nonprofits, business and government. Focused on delivering positive impact, she has helped build organizations, develop business strategies and craft messaging that advances the work of visionaries and leaders that are shaping the world. She played a critical role in marketing and practice integration for the energy sector group of a global law firm, led engagement with legal counsel and the Board of Directors to establish and facilitate strategic planning for the launch of a water-focused nonprofit, and has led program teams addressing a range of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) issues.  

Amanda brings her business acumen and operational expertise to every engagement, drawing on her particular strengths in stakeholder engagement, program development and storytelling. She is committed to continuing to build a career of service and working to make a positive impact on the world.

Tarra Smeltzer

Office Manager

Tarra Smeltzer has constructed a career that builds on her passion for personal wellness and strong business ethics. She brings a big heart and incredible attention to detail to every role she takes on. Whether it’s supporting customers or working with colleagues, she is a doer and fixer, helping manage cases, fostering a collaborative culture and trouble-shooting operational and legal issues.

With more than 30 years of customer service experience, Tarra manages the trial and team schedules and coordinates office operations to deliver the best outcomes for Jarvis clients. She also brings research skills and issue experience in the areas of real estate, consumer and family law.

Tarra is a vital member of the Jarvis team, and a caring champion of clients. In her free time she enjoys hiking in the Shenandoah Valley, reading and spending time with her loving family.

Madeline Farris


A student at the College of William & Mary, Madeline Farris is a Classics Major who plans to follow in the footsteps of Mrs. Jarvis as a lawyer and an author. Ever since the age of 12, Madeline has been writing: with six complete novels, Madeline is determined to publish her work, but she loves her work at Jarvis Law, where she is able to crack fascinating cases and help good people. Madeline figures in a leadership position in her campus’s Unitarian Universalist ministry, and also works at the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist Church as the Childcare Coordinator.

Madeline has experience in the nonprofit and legal aid sectors: she worked with Mrs. Jarvis as Mrs. Jarvis’s intern while Mrs. Jarvis was still a staff attorney at Blue Ridge Legal Services, and also worked with Valley Assistance Network from 2019-2020 as an intern, where she was able to help connect struggling people with necessary resources.

Madeline is also the stepdaughter of a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), so she is studying to obtain her light sport pilots license, for as Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Madeline’s favorite areas of law are family, consumer protection, and business law. She enjoys finding odd solutions to difficult problems, and assisting wonderful souls in a world that is sometimes unforgiving and cruel. Madeline’s hobbies include playing the clarinet, taking long walks in nature, and talking to her vivacious pet goldfish, Bertie.

Joshua Smeltzer


Joshua Smeltzer obtained a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy from James Madison University in 2022, following his service with the U.S. Army. He is a compassionate and committed public servant building a career that draws on his strong communication, research and management skills.

Josh seeks out opportunities that require critical thinking and creative solutions to address the complex challenges faced by clients. As a lead researcher, he dives deep into an issue to inform the legal strategy of the Jarvis team. He has led research on legal issues including consumer law, real estate, family law and estate planning.

Josh is a dedicated family man and proud member of the Shenandoah Valley community. In his free time, Josh enjoys physical activities and indulging in a new book.

Elaine Jarvis

Elaine Jarvis obtained her law degree from the Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 1997. She practiced law in D.C. and Northern Virginia for several years, obtaining experience in litigation, antitrust, mergers & acquisitions, bankruptcy and contract law. She put the practice of law on hold for a bit to raise three children and run multiple businesses, with a focus on publishing and helping non-profits. Over the course of a decade, Elaine wrote ten novels and built a social media following of more than 50,000 people with her page and blog, Running from Hell with El. Her first two novels, Ripple: a Tale of Hope and Redemption and I Run: a Novel won awards and hit Amazon bestseller’s list at #1 and #2.

In 2015, Elaine moved from Fairfax County to the mountains of Front Royal and found her love for the practice of law rekindled. She joined Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc. (BRLS) in Winchester, where she helped low-income clients in Frederick County, Clarke County, Front Royal, Shenandoah and Page County–and all parts in between. These clients faced legal issues in consumer law, bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, and estate planning. At BRLS, Elaine counted success as roofs kept over heads and clients saved from overwhelming threats to their survival. Leaving BRLS and her office mates was hard, but being able to help folks in Northern Virginia, Manassas, Winchester, the Valley and of course Front Royal while also focusing on complex fact patterns, small businesses, and aggrieved consumers makes for a journey into an exciting future. Elaine’s outside interests include writing, flying airplanes, hiking, adventuring, gardening and piloting things that go fast and land gently. She enjoys running and traveling from mountain to ocean and just about anywhere in between—as long as she can escape the city. She welcomes people from all faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, genders, and personal belief systems to her practice.