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Neighborhood Expert: Ask the expert — a conversation with a family law attorney

Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or

Part of my job as a real estate agent requires heavy conversations.

Sometimes I get to be part of celebratory moments in life and sometimes I get to be part of a not so happy moment in life. I often remind people of their responsibilities of being an adult and am the nagging mom nobody invited along. One of the other people who gets to be part of these same moments is Sonja Aoun, an attorney with Tysons based law firm BrigliaHundley.

BrigliaHundley is a long time sponsor of Vienna Little League and was recently ranked as one of US News and World Reports Best Law Firms for 2022.

I had the chance to talk to Sonja about how homeownership changes your responsibilities as an adult. I’d like to introduce a new series I’m going to do called “Ask The Expert” and we’re kicking it off with everyone’s least favorite subject: death.

Q: If 2 or more people are buying a home together and they are not married, what should they consider doing before closing day?

A: I highly recommend discussing and executing an equity sharing agreement. It helps to protect everyone equally. It is a shared financial agreement that allows parties to split ownership. If the two parties plan to get married, they can follow up with a pre-marital agreement.

Q: What are the advantages of putting a home in a trust?

A: I’m going to caveat this answer by saying I’m not a CPA. However, if you don’t need a trust for tax purposes, a trust does avoid probate and makes it easier for the loved ones you leave behind. It also protects the asset from creditors.

Q: If you bought a home and didn’t have kids, but now you do, what should you consider?

A: Get a will! It’s the only legal protection to specifically name who gets guardianship of your children once you die. You can also decide what happens to your assets to be used to care for your children until they’re a certain age.

Q: If you’re getting divorced, what should you consider before selling a home?

A: I’d suggest you talk to a realtor, a financial planner, and a certified divorce mortgage lender so they can discuss the asset’s worth and whether it’s worth holding onto or not. They can also advise if you can afford to keep it. Also, do not compare the equity in the home to a retirement account when discussing division of assets. They are not equal.

Q: If you need to sell a home after a loved one has passed, what documents do you need? What should you consider?

A: You need to know if there’s a will or trust, as that will determine your next steps. You’ll need a copy of those documents plus a death certificate, and you’ll need to talk to someone to advise you of how to go through probate (if applicable) and fill out that paperwork.

I also asked Sonja for one piece of advice she wished more people knew. Her response was insightful:

“Just take care of it. It makes it so much easier for the ones you leave behind. Nobody likes to deal with these things, but just do it and then you’re done — you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you don’t need to worry about it anymore.”

If you’re interested in learning more about wills, trusts, Sonja’s services or estates, they have a great free resource you can download here.

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