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PENNSYLVANIA ESTATE PLANNING FUNDAMENTALS
Most people do not realize that everyone over the age of 18 years already has an estate plan. Pennsylvania Intestate laws govern what happens to your things after death. However, the plan that the state has laid out in the laws of intestacy may not match an individual’s wishes. A properly drafted and executed estate plan from our experienced attorneys can replace the state’s plan and allow you to express your own intent and make sure all of your wishes are carried out after death.
AN ESTATE PLAN CAN INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENTS:
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament has no authority until after death. It is a way for you to lay out your wishes so that your assets are not distributed based on the state’s laws of intestacy. In a Last Will and Testament you can name an executor someone you trust to manage your estate after your death. You also can make specific bequests, or designate items to certain people. If you are a parent with minor children, you can name guardians to care for your children after death. A Last Will and Testament serves many purposes as part of a complete estate plan; however, it does not help an estate avoid probate.
If one of your goals is to avoid probate, establishing a trust is the way to go. In addition to probate avoidance, there are many other advantages to establishing a trust. Your assets can pass to the beneficiaries or heirs immediately upon your death. We like to say, “Your estate is settled in the conference room instead of the courtroom.” Some trusts can result in tax advantages for you, as the trust’s creator, and your heirs. There are some trusts that help you protect your assets from the cost of long-term care, lawsuits, and other creditors. A well-drafted trust lays out a plan for how you want to manage your assets during your lifetime if you become incapacitated as well as after your death.
A Financial Power of Attorney
A Financial Power of Attorney names a person to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf. It essentially gives another individual the right to sign your name. The Power of Attorney terminates upon the death of the maker. A properly drafted Power of Attorney is essential in order to have someone carry out your wishes when you are unable to do so yourself due to lack of capacity.
Health Care Directive
First, a Health Care Directive allows you to name the person you want to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unable to make decisions on your own. A Health Care Agent’s power terminates upon your death. Second, a Health Care Directive allows you to express your wishes about artificially supplied nutrition and hydration and what, if any, life sustaining measures you want should you have a terminal, end of life condition with no hope of recovery.
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