Melissa Walker provides expert counsel to people with estate planning needs including estate planning, probate, trusts, charitable planning, actions in probate and superior courts and estate and gift tax issues.
areas of practice
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melissa p. walker
Melissa has practiced exclusively in the areas of estate planning, probate, trusts, charitable planning, actions in probate and superior courts and estate and gift tax her entire career. She is a graduate of Yale University (B.A., 1985) and Duke University School of Law (J.D., cum laude, 1988).
Melissa was a founding partner of Salo and Walker and practiced with the firm from 1995 until Ann Salo’s retirement in 2017. Melissa previously practiced with Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Francisco and Long, Aldridge & Norman and Grenwald & Salo in Atlanta. She is a Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, a member of the American Bar Association (member, Real Property, Probate & Trust section), the Atlanta Bar Association (member, Estate Planning and Probate Section, member, Board of Directors 2000-2002), the State Bar of Georgia (Fiduciary Section, Chair, 2004-2005, Chair, Legislation Committee, 1999-2002, Chair, Rule Against Perpetuities Study Committee, 1999-2000), the State Bar of California (inactive), the Atlanta Estate Planning Council (member, Board of Directors, 2000-2002, 2010-2012), and the Decatur-DeKalb Estate Planning Council. Melissa has been selected by her peers as a Georgia Super Lawyer in the area of Estate Planning and Probate by Atlanta Magazine every year since 2004. She serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of The Paideia School, Atlanta, Georgia.
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frequently asked questions
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Most people need Wills. However, many people have Wills that are no longer adequate for their personal situation (their children are now adults, older relatives are now dependent upon them for care, their financial situation has changed) or do not take advantage of the most recent changes in tax and probate laws. Once you have made a Will, you need to make sure it remains valid and suitable for your situation.
Probate is the legal process governing the collection of a deceased person’s assets, determination and payment of debts, and distribution of the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs. The good news is that Georgia, unlike many other states, has a very simple and fairly painless probate process – if your will is properly drafted. There are situations in which it is desirable to avoid probate, in which case proper planning is essential.
Maybe. Probate laws vary widely from state to state, and while a will may be valid, without including certain provisions unique to Georgia an out-of-state will can result in the administration of an estate taking longer and costing more money than it should have. Secondary documents like medical directives and powers of attorney can also be affected by a move.
While joint tenancies (a form of ownership where assets pass automatically to a surviving joint tenant upon the death of the other joint tenant) may avoid probate, they do not avoid estate taxes. In addition, joint tenancy may not be appropriate in certain situations, such as when assets should be held in trust for minor children or a disabled beneficiary. Proper title to assets should be determined as part of your overall estate plan.
The Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care is an important document governing your medical and personal care should you become incompetent or unable for any reason to make your own health care decisions. Powers of attorney for financial matters can assist in the management of your affairs during incapacity. Beneficiary designations for life insurance and retirement accounts must be coordinated with the provisions of the will and/or trust. Finally, trusts may be advisable for property management, tax savings or financial protection for family members.
The good news is that recent changes in the federal estate tax mean that relatively few estates will owe estate tax. The current estate tax exemption is a base $5 million, indexed for inflation (Georgia doesn’t have a separate estate tax); qualifying transfers to a surviving spouse and charity are also exempt. Income taxes may also come into play depending on the type of asset involved. If your estate may be subject to these taxes, consult an attorney specializing in estate planning and tax work in order to minimize the taxes your family will owe.
For younger people, often it is naming minor children as direct beneficiaries of life insurance or retirement in the mistaken assumption that it will make things easier to manage in the event of their death. For older people, a frequent mistake is not coordinating the terms of a will with title to assets; both must work together for an effective plan.
Any time a person experiences a significant change in his or her personal circumstances, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth or adoption of a child, it makes sense to determine if any updates are needed. A change in financial circumstances may raise tax considerations or a change in how assets are managed for beneficiaries. Otherwise, every 5 years or so is probably adequate.
Yes – if you are willing to research Georgia law in order to determine what gaps and deficiencies exist in the program’s work product and what you need to do to correct them. In addition, most programs do not attempt to address trust planning for children or estate tax issues.
Charges for legal services are based on numerous factors, including the amount of time spent by professional staff (lawyers and legal assistants), nature and complexity of the matters involved, the results achieved and unusual time demands. I can provide an estimate of the time needed for a particular project before commencing work, and I do not charge to give an estimate.
I hope I have been able to answer a few of the preliminary questions you may have regarding your estate planning needs. The information on this site is meant to educate. It is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. I invite you to contact me if I may be of assistance with your estate planning, and welcome your calls, letters and email. However, please do not send any confidential information to me without prior agreement.