Why Young Individuals Need Planning as Much as Older Adults

Photo-1536010305525-f7aa0834e2c7There is definitely a false belief that estate planning and elder law are only for individuals who are elderly and who have amassed a ton of wealth.  Certainly, individuals in that category absolutely need to plan, but that does not mean that younger individuals should not also put a plan in place ahead of time.


When an individual reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they are presumed to be able to make decisions for themselves and not need the assistance of anyone at that point.  Oftentimes, young adults don’t realize that once they turn 18, getting a financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and Last Will and Testament can be absolutely necessary. 


Many of our clients are college students, going away without mom or dad for the first time, and somewhere within the first couple years they either end up at the hospital or they end up asking mom and dad to call the school to ask questions about billing or something else.  To their surprise, their parents are no longer able to just make decisions because they are over 18 and are expected to be adults. 


We recommend to all college students going off to school to enter into a power of attorney providing the authority for the parents to be able to make their healthcare and financial decisions if need be.  If nothing else, allowing the parents to be able to call the school or other institutions and ask questions.  This is often overlooked by many parents and can cause a lot of heart break and stress if their child is injured or in need of assistance.


Although most college students and young individuals have not amassed a ton of wealth, having the document in place specifying who is going to receive the assets and who will be the individuals responsible for carrying out those wishes (executor) can often save lots of heart break.  Yes, it is true that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a statute called intestate succession which does provide what would happen to assets if an individual dies, but oftentimes it is not what a person would want. 


The intestate succession rules are archaic and old and do not necessarily follow the wishes of a current situation.  For example, we recently had a situation where the parents who are estranged had to administer the estate of their daughter who passed away.  The emotional toll that it took on the parents and the family for them having to put up with each other was certainly probably not what the daughter wanted and had she had her wishes in place it would have eliminated not only the heartache of losing a child but them having to fight and remind each other every day of why they were divorced in the first place.


We also recommend that young adults have documents that are properly put in place (so that others can get access to digital assets).  Digital assets often include photos and videos, electronic media, stored data, and apps, etc.  Young adults are typically ones who have proportionately more of these than others, and if the power of attorney or the Last Will and Testament does not provide for that, it can cause lots of time delays and issues.


Hopefully, this article was able to express the need for individuals to have planning in place, particularly young adults who often don’t think that it is necessary. If you would like further information or would like to learn more about the content in this blog, please contact our office at 717-845-5390.


What is a Pour-Over Will?

Photo-1516901408257-500ed7566e6aMost of us have heard about a Last Will and Testament, but have you ever heard of a pour-over Will?  Pour-over Wills are used often in connection with living trusts.  


There are several different types of living trusts, but ultimately trusts are a vehicle that will avoid probate and often provide other benefits such as asset protection or other things, depending on what type of trust it is.  The goal of a trust is to make sure that they assets are “funded into the trust.”  In our office we like to say that it is putting your boxes into your wagon. 


However, oftentimes assets will be left out of the trust for a myriad of reasons.  To be completely honest, the main reason is probably just because people forget to put them in the trust and over time when they buy something new instead of having it put into the wagon they just leave it in their name alone out of forgetfulness.  


A pour-over Will essentially says that all assets that are left in a person’s name alone at the time of their death should “pour over” into the trust.  The will does still have to be probated because the asset was in the person’s name alone, but ultimately the assets will pour into the trust and then will be subject to the terms of the trust.  We used this as a catchall or fallback provision so that we are sure that the trust terms will govern the distribution in the future.  


Pour-over Wills are often much shorter than your traditional wills because their purpose is simply to get assets over into a trust, subject to the terms of that trust.  Therefore, pour-over Wills are simple and easy to understand because of their purpose. 


If you have a trust and your trust provides for all of the distributions to you and your family after you die, talk to your attorney or professional to determine how assets that are left in your name are going to be handled.  Assuming that there won’t be any is probably not the best option or course of action.  Talk to your professional to determine if a pour-over Will is right for you.   


If you would like to have additional information or to discuss this further, please give us a call at 717-845-5490.



Who Will Raise Your Kids and Make Sure That They Are Taken Care of Financially if You Are Gone?

Photo-1534982841079-afde227ada8fThe thought of passing away and not being able to raise your kids is certainly one that none of us hope that we ever have to experience or endure.  However, the thought of our children being involved in a legal dispute over who’s going to raise them and having them go in and out of court after the loss of their parents is even more haunting and disturbing. 


If you want to be in control of who is going to raise your kids and who is going to make sure that they can distribute the money to them to take care of them financially, it is imperative that you take efforts to name a legal guardian for your children.  Otherwise, a judge will be the individual to decide who will ultimately raise your children, often amidst litigation and argument among numerous family members.


We are often asked in our office who is the best person to name as the legal guardian for children and who should be the trustee of said children to distribute the money to them. 


Although there are certainly no perfect answers, we wanted to provide some thoughts, ideas, questions and comments in order to be able to help narrow your options and assist you with this decision.


  • Who in your life shares the same values as you and is as patient to raise your children?


  • Based upon the individuals that you are thinking of, how many children do they have on their own and would adding your children to their family be insurmountable?  Do they have the stamina to be able to raise all of the children – not only their own but yours?


  • If you are not related to this person by blood, would you still consider this person to be the right choice to raise your children?  We often find that people will look typically to other siblings or family  members, not because they think that they are the right choice but simply because they are blood and believe that they have to do that.


  • Have you talked to the person or people that you are thinking of naming?  Are they willing to undertake the responsibility of being a legal guardian to raise your children?  We recommended that you contact those individuals to verify that they are willing and able.


  • Does the age of your potential person cause a problem?  For example, are they under 18 or are they of an age that they are slowing down and not able to take care of themselves, let alone other individuals?  We often find that children want to name their parents as the guardians and forget that as their parents get into their later years, it is difficult for them to raise children, particularly young children who are very ambitious and very strenuous.


  • Does the person or people that you are thinking of have a deep enough connection with your children or a significant personal relationship with you and your family?  


  • Do the people that you are thinking of live locally to where the kids would not have to change school districts?  If not, have you discussed this possibility with your children if they are old enough to understand and how they would react to that or, have you discussed with potential legal guardians the possibility of them moving to your hometown in order to get your children out of high school or at least of an age that moving them would not be problematic?


  • Do the people that you are thinking of have the financial means to undertake such an endeavor?  It is imperative that you plan ahead to provide, in case you are gone, and we would recommend that you talk to a financial planner to discuss ways to provide for your children, such as life insurance and other vehicles.  That would allow the guardian to be able to get access to money on behalf of the children, which is certainly important.


Whether or not the trustee and the guardian are the same people is a personal choice.  Some people believe that you should separate the person who is raising your children from the people who are in control of the money on behalf of the children, such as a checks and balance situation.  Others feel that if you trust the individual with your kids, you should trust them with the money.  Although I personally do not believe that there is a perfect answer for all people, I think that it is definitely something that everyone should think about, and oftentimes, the people who you are thinking of will dictate the answer.


These are a few questions and thoughts and ideas that people should think about in regard to who to name as the legal guardian and trustee for their families.  If you would like to have additional information or to discuss this further, please give us a call at 717-845-5490.



I Am a Parent of a Child With Special Needs; Where Do I Start?  

Photo-1505876104692-2f34b9d54303We are often in the community giving workshops or presentations at community events or local churches and nonprofit organizations. 


It is typically fairly obvious based upon the angst on the person’s face and the pure emotion when they are the parent of an individual with a disability and special needs.  They don’t know where to start, they don’t know what questions to ask, and they do not know where to turn for the answers. 


While we believe in education for all of our clients, regardless of the situation, it is absolutely the key and the first step for a family with an individual with special needs.  It’s never too early to start getting information and understanding the different options of how to deal with where you are but also what options may be available in the future.  


In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when a person reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years of age, they are presumed to have capacity to make decisions on their own.  I advise individuals with special needs family members to contact us prior to the individual’s 18th birthday so that we can determine whether or not we are going to be able to enter into a power of attorney or if we are going to have to go through the steps of a guardianship proceeding.  


Once we get over that first hurdle and have evaluated the level of involvement another person will need to have to best protect the interests of the individual we can then start mapping out a route and start planning for the future.  We will then discuss different options such as special needs trusts, ABLE accounts and how life insurance may fit into the plan.  


Please contact an expert in the area of special needs planning to start the conversation and determine the best path to move forward.  We offer a special needs planning workshop, not only live, but also via a on demand link for you to watch at your convenience.  If you would like more information about our special needs planning workshops, please contact our office at 717-845-5390.  


How Mediation Can Save a Family

Photo-1533749047139-189de3cf06d3Estate planning and elder law is a wonderfully rewarding and fulfilling practice area.  As an attorney, I am blessed to work with families who are not in crisis and are merely planning ahead for their families.  To the extent that we are dealing with people who are in crisis, we are oftentimes able to assist with strategies that produce a positive result to the family that they are so happy and so relieved, that makes the relationship all the better.  The hardest thing that I have had to watch during my career is families be ripped apart for numerous reasons.  


We often joke that we’ve seen siblings fight over five dollars or that family members will kill each other over Grandma’s clock.  While most times, we are joking and saying it in jest, the truth is families can often become divided over very basic and nominal things.  Disputes can often arise when an elderly adult individual is receiving care in their home from another family member or when an individual dies and assets are being distributed pursuant to the Last will and Testament or other device. 


The natural instinct for most people is to immediately call an attorney and litigate or fight over an issue; however, I truly believe that mediation can oftentimes not only save lots of money for the families involved but also is a pathway for the family relationship to remain intact.  The job of a mediator is to lead all parties through a conversation to a mutual agreement that they have entered into on their own accord rather than a judge issuing a final order or decree. Oftentimes with an order or decree nobody feels like they got what they want and are always resentful and never happy with the result. We have referred numerous clients over the years to different local mediators, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.


We have had numerous clients that have come back to us, thanked us for the referral to the local mediators because they were trained in conflict resolution and were able to dissolve or diffuse the emotions to get to the root of the problem.  Litigation immediately puts people on opposite sides and often has an end ugly because people are fighting over the principle of the matter or they are digging their heals in just because they can. 


We highly recommend that if you are in a family conflict, regardless of the root cause, that you contact a local mediator.  If you do not know of one please feel free to contact our office and we can provide names of several in the area who are very good at their craft.


With the realization of the value of a mediator we have now also been able to eliminate the very few situations that would have ended very badly for the family and allowed them to come to a mutual agreement.  We hope that this article provided another alternate to litigation and how conflicts can be resolved. 


If you have any further questions or would like to get additional information, please reach out to our office at 717-845-5390 or check us out on the web at www.bellomoassociates.com


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