Updated: Oct 21, 2020
In the midst of our current crisis in the U.S. and with the number of infected people growing rapidly, people are working to ensure they are prepared, stocked with essentials, and ready to tackle the challenges that are yet to come during this difficult time. Now, more than ever, we are reminded of the importance of having estate planning documents in place. This often includes the following:
1. Last Will and Testament - This is an essential document that directs how your assets will pass to your beneficiaries at the time of your passing (including any Trusts necessary for your beneficiaries), who will oversee the administration of your Estate and any trusts established under your Will, who will serve as guardian of your minor children (if any), and much more. Even if you do not have a large Estate, this document is critical. Yes, you need a Will even if you are not "rich". We'll save that for another blog. Many mistakenly think that if they pass without a Will, their assets will automatically go to their spouse, and then to their children. Others commonly think their assets automatically go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has an intestacy statute that directs how your Estate must be divided if you pass without a Will, and this statute does not always pass your assets where you would have otherwise wanted. Furthermore, if you have minor children, there are additional factors that must be considered to protect your assets for your minor children. It is critical to have a Will that properly reflects YOUR wishes.
2. General Power of Attorney - This document allows you to name an Agent or Agents to act on your behalf in the event that you are unable or unwilling to handle your financial and real estate affairs. This is extremely important as financial institutions are not permitted to talk to your spouse, children, or other loved ones without legal authority to do so. In addition, this document can often be a tool to avoid a guardianship if you should become incapacitated.
3. Medical Power of Attorney - This document allows you to name an Agent or Agents to act on your behalf in the event that you are unable or unwilling to handle your medical care and/or decision-making. This allows your loved ones to give and receive information regarding your care, and help facilitate your care. Parents of minor children may consider preparing a Medical Power of Attorney giving someone else the authority to take your child or children to the doctor/hospital or receive information regarding their care in the event that you (the parent) are unavailable or perhaps on a kid-free getaway.
4. Living Will - This document is an end-of-life declaration to be used only if you are incompetent, and states whether or not you want to be kept alive artificially if death is imminent, and you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
In addition to these four primary estate planning documents, some estate plans include Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts. These Trusts are tailored specifically to the client's needs and goals, and can be a useful estate planning tool. Other documents may include, but are not limited to, Funeral Instructions, Memorandum for the Distribution of Tangible Property, Organ Donation or Humanity Gift Registry Donation.
DO YOU ALREADY HAVE YOUR ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS? If you already have documents, it's time to dust them off and make sure that those documents are up-to-date. You should ask yourself if anything has changed since the execution of those documents, such as your named beneficiaries, size of your estate, and executors. If changes are necessary, contact us now to begin updating your estate planning documents.
DO YOU NEED ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS? If you do not have these documents in place, now is a good time to start thinking about your wishes and execute them. Contact us now to get started.
One final note: We recognize that there are many online "DIY" services available that may save time and legal costs, but you should ask yourself - at what cost? It is important not just to have these documents, but to create a good, holistic estate plan that works for you and that will be valid under Pennsylvania law.
At Schneider, Nixon and John, we will work with you to create an estate plan that works for YOU. We will also assist you in making sure your assets are titled properly and beneficiary designations are are properly updated.
We are here to ease your anxiety and concerns during this difficult time. If you are ready to set up an appointment, visit our "Schedule Appointment" page or call us at 215-672-7660.
We look forward to working with you.