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
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
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
You can also express your wishes regarding donating organs
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.
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.