Heeney & Associates P.C.
Phone: 215-262-8707 Fax: 610-302-3062
103 Grandview Road, Boyertown, PA 19512

Estate Planning

Expect the Best, but Plan for the Worst

One of the responsibilities you, as an adult, possess is to plan for proper distribution of your estate. The daunting term ?estate planning? means exactly what it says: It is the way you decide what will happen to your assets after your death. The most common method by which to do this is by a will. A will is any written document that purports to dictate the way your possessions will be distributed after your death. In Pennsylvania, to draft a will, one must be of ?sound mind and body? and of 18 years of age or older. It does not matter if you are rich or poor. The only question is whether you wish to exercise control over who inherits your assets.

Early on in their lives, many people do not wish to think about drafting a will. They consider the topic morbid or irrelevant to their current situation. Most are making the most common mistake: They think that a will is something you make once and forget about. It is a document that grows with you and adapts to the changes in your life.

Why Do You Need a Will?

First, you wish not only to make sure that your assets are distributed the way you see fit after your death, but you wish to be sure that only certain people are in charge of settling your estate and acting as guardians of your children. Otherwise, the Register of Wills and Orphans? Court will make all of these decisions for you.

Second, you wish to avoid the additional expense of a bond. Without a properly drafted will, your estate may have to pay an annual bond premium. Furthermore, specific directives in your will can prevent the need and expense of seeking special court orders.

Third, you wish your executor who may take a risk in distributing estate assets without a full audit or accounting one year after the first complete advertisement of the grant of letters to receive protection from unknown creditors under 20 Pa.C.S. §3532(a). These are all important considerations. The short of it is that without a will, you have no say in what happens to your possessions after your death. But, what of before your death? What happens if you suffer from an accident or health problem which renders you incapable of handling your affairs?

Living Wills and Powers of Attorney

A Living Will tells your treating physician what steps may be taken to preserve your life, should you be incapable of communicating them on your own. A Power of Attorney appoints someone to act in your place financially should you become incapable of shouldering such responsibilities due to injury or illness. Both documents sit dormant until you are deemed incompetent by a
medical doctor. If at such time as your condition improves and you become cognizant again, you may revoke the documents.
Living Wills and Powers of Attorney are there to make sure your wishes are known and you are cared for at times when you are unable to act for yourself.

What Can you Do Now?

You need to be aware of your estate. Your estate consists of all your property, real and personal, as well as any bank accounts, businesses, investments and stock portfolios, pension plans, life insurance and even your debts. Sit down and go over all of these things. Note what assets are owned jointly. Assets held in joint names will automatically pass to the surviving partner. This can be advantageous. Think of how you want to see your possessions passed on and to whom. Think of what assets may require long-term maintenance after you are gone. Finally, decide if you need professional help. Accountants, financial planners and lawyers are there to assist you. There are books and materials to help you do this on your own and they can be helpful. However, use them at your own risk. Some do not conform to Pennsylvania law and others might be outdated. You should make an appointment with an attorney today so you can be sure that your estate will handled the right way.
Estate planning is not just about what you do after your death, but about planning for what might happen while you are still alive. No one plans to have an unexpected accident or crippling illness and that is why such wills, living wills and powers of attorney are drafted early when you become an adult and are revised along the way to reflect and adapt your own changing lifestyle. The old adage says it best: ?Expect the best, but plan for the worst.?

DISCLAIMER: This column is a service providing only general legal advice. The information is not meant to be acted upon without proper legal assistance. As with all such matters of the law, anyone requiring legal help is strongly encouraged to seek the aid of an attorney.

Copyright 2014 Heeney & Associates, a Boyertown, PA Law Firm.