Revocable Trusts and other Planning Tools: Paying the IRS LESS, your loved ones MORE

Last week we talked about wills. As in, yes, you really need one for a million reasons—but most of all, to make things easier for the people you leave behind. There’s other stuff lawyers can do to help you and your loved ones once you pass. As a lady said the other day when she called, “Can you write one of those things that means my kids pay the IRS less?”

I shook my head and squinted at the phone. “What’s going on?”

She had cancer.

“Oh,” I said. “I know what you need.” I went on to discuss trusts, or what some folks call “living trusts” and lawyers call “revocable trusts.”

By using a “revocable trust,” you can avoid the probate process for any assets that are held by the trust, and the distribution of those assets can take place immediately following your death. The revocable trust works to avoid probate because the trust itself owns any assets you transfer into it. Your death doesn’t change the owner, so no taxes get paid to the state—which is a win.

Probate is expensive and hard. If someone comes to us and says they need a will probated, I am most likely going to ask for a $5,000 retainer up front—because the probate process takes time and work. Unless the executor or executors are especially good at and trained in handling finances and lots of documents, or you’ve been through it before, you will probably end up hiring a lawyer to probate your relative’s will. Really? Yes, it’s worth it. But it’s also worth avoiding it if you can—ahead of time.

Jarvis Law Office sign

What does probate involve? Inventorying and appraising property; paying debts and taxes; and distributing the remainder of the property according to the will. You will have to pay a percentage of the estate’s value to the Clerk of the Circuit Court where the decedent lived. If you’re doing this yourself, your best bet is to either call a lawyer or call the clerk and find out if they have a probate packet. Most courts have these, and clerks will guide you—at least sometimes!

What Can I Put in a Trust?

You can title your vehicles, your home, your business in the name of a trust.

You can set up a way to care for your pets with your trust—and even make sure your pet gets treated well when he or she passes.

There are many assets you can simply leave to beneficiaries, which does not usually require a will or a trust. For example, retirement funds, vehicles, stocks and bonds, life insurance policies—so long as you fill in the beneficiary block, you can jump around the state’s requirements and your beneficiary will just need their ID and perhaps a copy of your death certificate to obtain the asset or assets you left them.  

Transferring a car, trailer, truck without a will or trust? You designate a Transfer of Death recipient or TOD on the title, and boom. Just as simple as transferring an asset to a beneficiary listed on your insurance policy.

Boats and planes are little harder—you need a will or a trust to transfer them.

No matter what, you spend a bit of money up front to save your heirs and friends a good bit of money and even more heartache once you’re gone. You make sure you leave nothing to fight about or tussle for, and you take the guessing out of the grieving.

Final Thoughts?

It’s better to decide who gets what once you’re gone rather than to leave it up to the state or to your family to fight over—and it’s better to leave your family your assets than to pay more than you should to the IRS, the state or the County. They take enough of your hard-earned money as it is, right?

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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.