By a resolution that was passed on September 27, 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives designated the third week of October as “National Estate Planning Awareness Week”. So, what should you consider when you think about estate planning?
The Basic Will
Under Pennsylvania law, a document that is signed by the testator (the person creating the will) that gives evidence of his or her desire to handle their estate after death qualifies as a will. However, this kind of will requires that somebody testify as to knowledge of the testator’s signature and possibly mindset at the time of writing in order to “prove” that the will is valid. To avoid the need for such witnesses even a basic will should be signed by the testator and two witnesses, and the signatures should be notarized. This is called a self-proving will and is presumed to be valid at the time it is presented for probate.
A basic will usually will pass all of the testator’s estate to his or her spouse, and then to their children if the spouse does not survive the testator. Most people believe that this will happen anyway, so they think that they don’t need a will. But that is not always the case, depending on the size of the estate and other factors. State intestate (without a will) laws will determine who gets property. In addition, a basic will might contain specific bequests, like passing a family heirloom to someone else, or passing a cherished collectible directly to a sibling or child.
Even if you don’t think that you have anything like that, it is still useful to have a basic will in place just to be ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes. It will make your survivors’ lives easier if your wishes are clear.
Setting up a Trust
If you have young children, a family member who requires special care, a sizable estate or own businesses or other investments it might make sense to set up a trust to ensure that your survivors are taken care of with the income that you would have provided for their care. A trust can specify who will be in charge of the care of those people, and who will be in charge of the money or investments of the estate. It can specify that the same person is in charge of both aspects, or choose different people for each. A well drafted trust will hopefully put both you and your surviving family members at ease with the knowledge that even if you die, your family will still be taken care of.
The Living Will
Many people think that estate planning is only deciding what happens to their money after they die. But, you should also consider what happens to your assets (and to you) if you are incapacitated? A living will can give a person power of attorney over you and your estate if you become ill, or are involved in an accident and cannot make decisions on your own. This document can be as specific as you want and can allow others to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf, without the need for a formal guardianship proceeding.
In addition, the living will can establish Do Not Resuscitate procedures, cremation or burial wishes and other decisions prior to when they are needed. This way, your spouse or other family member is not burdened with the extra stress of trying to figure out what you would want. You have already established your desires and hopefully communicated them at a time when the stresses of illness or injury are not clouding the judgment of your loved ones.
The above topics are just the basics of estate planning. If you want to discuss any of these items, or more detailed options, please reach out to the estate planning professionals at Audi Law.