Estate Planning

A comprehensive estate plan answers more than the question of what happens when I die. It also is comprised of documents other than a last will and testament. A comprehensive estate plan provides peace of mind to you and your loved ones throughout significant changes in your life. Typically, these events would be marriage, divorce, having children, incapacity or competency issues, death of a spouse, or a spouse being admitted into a long-term care facility.

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Last Will and Testament

The Last Will and Testament, or will, is a document written by an individual called a testator that takes effect only after an individual dies. The will may be changed during the testator’s lifetime as long as that person is mentally competent to change the will. The will provides who has the right to inherit the decedent’s probate assets. Probate assets consist of assets solely in the decedent’s name that are not governed by a beneficiary designation. These assets may include real property, personal property, a vehicle, checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, business interests, and a safe deposit box.

Not only does a will name the beneficiaries of the decedent, but the testator has the ability to name his or her executors in a will as well. The executor will be the individual who is tasked with properly administering the decedent’s estate. If the testator has minor children at the time that the will is drafted, the testator may name a proposed guardian of their minor child or children in the event of his or her untimely death.  A will also addresses other issues including how Pennsylvania inheritance tax is handled by the estate, if the executor must post a bond to serve in that role, and if there are any special conditions that must be fulfilled in order for a beneficiary to receive their inheritance from the estate. 

 

General Durable Power of Attorney

More commonly referred to as a power of attorney, this document gives another person (the “agent”) the authority to act on behalf of the person signing the document (the “principal”). Powers of attorney either become effective immediately when the document is signed, or upon the mental incapacity of the principal (a springing power of attorney). Whether you decide to have your power of attorney effective immediately or upon disability depends on your circumstances.

A power of attorney is considered to be “durable” because it is effective even when the person signing the document later becomes incapacitated. Typically, a power of attorney is used only when a person lacks the mental capacity to make decisions and take actions needed to facilitate financial transactions such as making a credit card payment, paying a for their home, or transferring funds between accounts.

Powers of attorney are important for parents of young children, because they allow a parent to nominate a guardian for a child if the child’s parents become incapacitated. Powers of attorney are especially important for individuals of retirement age and beyond due to the increased possibility of mental incapacity. Thoughtful consideration is needed to select an agent who will make sound financial decisions and act with integrity when granted unfettered access to your financial resources. While these topics may be difficult to discuss with loved ones, thinking through these hard questions now will allow you to rest easy knowing your future is sound.

 

Advance Healthcare Directive
(living will)

In Pennsylvania the Advanced Healthcare Directive (AHD) is two documents wrapped into one form. The first document is the Medical Power of Attorney. This document is similar to the General Durable Power of Attorney, however, this document gives your agent the ability to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you cannot communicate to the healthcare professionals. Also, this document provides a waiver to the burdensome medical privacy laws such as HIPPA , so that you agent can communicate directly with your doctors in order to make an educated decision which is best for you.

The other document in the AHD is called a Living Will. This document takes effect when you are unable to communicate with your healthcare professionals and you and in the final stages of life. Those circumstances are difficult to contemplate and are unpleasant to think about. However, by completing this document, your doctors and family members must legally abide by your wishes on how you spend your final moments. Having this document in place will likely reduce the possibility of family quarrels and eliminate the questions that your family may have regarding your wishes under those circumstances. 

 

Advanced Estate Planning Documents

There are several other advanced estate planning tools that estate planning attorneys may recommend to their clients. With the rise of on demand television financial advisers such as Suze Orman, these tools have become more popular in recent days. These instruments are called living trusts or revocable trusts, and irrevocable trusts. These documents typically serve as will substitutes and largely used to avoid the process of probating a will. While some states have a burdensome probate and estate administration process, Pennsylvania’s process for administering an estate or administering a trust are very similar and not too cumbersome. Certain clients may have assets where a trust would be valuable tool to utilize, but in many cases, a will provides the client with most cost effective and adequate way to handle their estate. We will work with you in order to ascertain exactly what tools you need in order to achieve your estate planning goals. 

 

 

Administration

Helping manage and settle an estate or trust after the death of a family member.
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Elder Law

Advocating and obtaining benefits for your loved ones as they age. 
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