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Wills and Estate Planning

Wills and Estate Planning

Wills and Estate Planning 

Three of the most important documents that you can have are: a Last Will and Testament, a Power of Attorney, and an Advance Healthcare Directive (Living Will). These documents help your next of kin make important medical decisions for you if you are unable to, they provide for the maintenance of your assets in the event that you are incapacitated, and they make arrangements for your loved ones when you can no longer be with them. In short, they make your wishes known, providing peace of mind for you and your family. 

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document where you give another individual the legal authority to act on your behalf if you are incapacitated, permanently or temporarily, or otherwise unavailable. It ends upon the death of the person who created it.   

Wills and Trusts. If you pass away without a will, there is a “default” law which specifies how your property is to be divided among your legal heirs. In a will, you specify how your property is to be divided among the individuals you name when you pass away. If you have young children, or heirs that may not manage money very well, or have special needs, then you may also want to leave their share to a trust.  You can also name a guardian for your children in your will. While a choice of guardian can be challenged in court, Pennsylvania courts give a great deal of weight to the guardian chosen by the parent. 

Advance Healthcare Directive (Living Will).  An advance healthcare directive is a document that allows you to set forth your wishes for what kind of medical treatment you are willing to receive, and what kind of medical treatment you do not want to receive.  This document is used in the event that you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself, either temporarily or permanently.  It prevents your loved ones from guessing as to your wishes, and avoids arguments between your family as to what you would have chosen.  

Estate Administration 

When a person passes away the property that they own that is not in a contract or account with a beneficiary designation is transferred to the heirs at law (if there is no will), or to the beneficiaries named in the will. In order to do this an “estate” is opened in Orphans Court by an administrator (if there is no will), or the executor named in the will.  Once the estate is opened, notice must be sent to those named in the will or heirs at law, and an inventory is usually filed, an inheritance tax return must be filed, and usually the decedent’s last income tax returns must also be filed before there is any distribution to the heirs at law or those named in the will. Our fee for representing the administrator or executor depends on the size and complexity of the estate, but it is often a small percentage of the value of the estate assets. We will provide you with an estimate of the costs and our fee at, or soon after, our first meeting.