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Estate Planning - Documents

Planning for your Estate involves consideration of how to distribute your assets upon your death (a Will), how to protect your assets through your lifetime (a Trust), plan for events when you become incapacitated (a Power of Attorney) and plan for the time when you cannot communicate your desires regarding further invasive medical treatment (a Medical Power of Attorney/Living Will). While thinking about your finances and planning for your incapacity or death may be uncomfortable, there are considerable legal and tax implications for your estate and intended beneficiaries without proper planning. The potential losses and expenses to your estate should outweigh any desire you have to put off the estate planning process. Parents of minor children have added incentives to create estate documents that include guardianship provisions so that their children may be cared for by individuals they know and trust.

I have over ten years experience in estate planning and estate administration. I pay meticulous attention to detail while attending to the issues facing the various administrative requirements of opening and closing an estate. I can help you plan for your estate with the following documents:

Wills and Trusts

A Will is needed for anyone over the age of 18 to have a say in who gets his or her property when he/she dies. A Will identifies specific beneficiaries and individuals you trust to carry out your wishes. If you die without a Will, your property will be distributed in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Intestate Laws. The administration required to distribute your property will be through a court appointed estate administrator–which may or may not be someone you know or a member of your family. If you have no relatives (or your relatives cannot be found) the State will get your property. Dying without a Will can, and most likely will, lead to the distribution of your property in ways you never intended, be more costly in terms of fees and costs and create added emotional strain to your survivors.

Certain property cannot be passed on through a Will. Property that is titled as “tenancy by the entireties”or “joint tenancy” is an asset you cannot pass on through a Will. The property will automatically become the property of the surviving owner. Additionally, bank accounts, securities (stocks and bonds), life insurance policies or retirement accounts with a named beneficiary will pass to the named beneficiary and not through your Will.

Planning for your Estate and drafting your Will is often stirs up uncomfortable feelings. There are considerable legal and tax implications for your estate and intended beneficiaries that outweigh any desire you have to put off the estate planning process. Parents of minor children have added incentives to create estate documents so that their children can be cared for by individuals they know and trust.

Married couples with estates large enough to warrant concern for the assessment of federal estate taxes should fully understand the unlimited marital deduction. Planning for the estate tax can include creating a Trust so that each spouse’s estate stays under the estate tax exemption threshold. The estate tax exemption has been the source of great political debate and has been increased to $2M for estates established in 2006 through 2008. In 2009 the exemption increases to $3.5M and in 2010 there is no estate tax–no matter how large your estate is. Then, in 2011 the tax exemption is reduced to $1M–unless Congress acts to modify the current tax law.

Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care

Every person has the right to make his or her own medical treatment decisions. This includes making decisions today about the type of medical treatment you desire if you become unable to communicate your wishes. It provides an express and clear message to your family regarding your desires and relieves them from making difficult medical decisions for you.

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to state who will make health care treatment decisions for you. It is a flexible document that allows you (“principal) to appoint someone you know and trust (“agent”) to obtain medical records and make medical care decisions when you are unconscious and unable to communicate.

A Living Will allows you to state what, if any, life prolonging treatment you desire if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. The Living Will provides express instructions regarding the type of medical treatment you desire should you be in a terminal condition (a condition that will lead to death in a short period of time) or a state of permanent unconsciousness (being unconscious or in a coma with no hope of waking up). Based upon the current state of medical technology, you can choose to receive or not to receive:

  • cardiac pulmonary resuscitation
  • mechanical respiration
  • tube feeding or any other artificial or invasive form of nutrition or hydration
  • blood or blood products
  • surgery or invasive diagnostic tests
  • kidney dialysis
  • antibiotics

You can also express your wishes regarding donating organs and/or tissue.

Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney allows you (the “principal”) to designate an individual you know and trust (your “agent”) to arrange for and manage your finances when you become incapable or incapacitated. Creating a Durable Power of Attorney avoids costly and time consuming court proceedings and the potential for someone you do not want to manage your finances to be assigned as your agent. The authority given to your agent is very broad therefore it is critical that you select someone you thoroughly trust. Agents are held accountable under Pennsylvania Law and the Power of Attorney can be revoked at any time.

The Power of Attorney will not expire until it is revoked. It is a good idea, however, to review and update the Power regularly since some institutions are less likely to take a document that is several years old.

Estate Administration

The process your personal representative goes through to manage and settle your estate is called estate administration. The process begins with filing your Will with the Register of Wills at the County Court House and affirmation by your personal representative that he or she will honor and uphold the wishes of the decedent as outlined in the Will (or the intestate laws of Pennsylvania). Pennsylvania assesses an inheritance tax which requires the preparation and filing of an inheritance tax return.

Personal representative should contact Attorney Carole Hendrick with specific questions.

Attorney Carole Hendrick can assure that all legal requirements involved in settling your affairs and transferring property are met. To contact Attorney Carole Hendrick, call 610-489-0295 or click here.

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