A will is a document that instructs your executor, the business manager of your estate, how your assets are to be distributed upon your death. There are specific requirements which must be met in order for a will to be valid. However, the person making the will (the “testator”) can always change his or her will. No will is final until the death of the testator. However, if you want to change an existing valid will, you cannot make changes on the will document itself. You must either prepare a valid codicil (amendment to the will) or prepare a new will and revoke the prior will.
If you die without a will, you lose the power to determine who get what assets after your death, and who will administer your estate. Your administrator will be determined by PA law; if several persons qualify to be administrator under the law, they will either have to agree on who will do it, or they may have to go to court and let the court choose. Similarly, PA law determines how your assets will be distributed among your lawful heirs.
Many people are not aware that most jointly-owned property or accounts, “in trust for” accounts, life insurance, and retirement accounts cannot be provide for in your will, and the ownership of these assets will pass by law to the beneficiary or joint owner upon your death.
There are many “free” seminars and substantial TV advertising which focus on the question of trusts. What is a trust? Is a trust right for me? Some of the advertising suggests that persons can save PA inheritance taxes by creating and putting their assets in to a “living trust.” THIS IS NOT TRUE! Other advertisements imply that if you die without a will or a living trust, the state will get all (or a greater portion of) your asset. THIS IS ALSO NOT TRUE! It is true that for some persons a living trust makes sense, but they are the exception and not the rule.
We at Shah Law Group can help you sort out fact from fiction and decide what is the best method of providing for the orderly transfer of your assets after your death.
POWER OF ATTORNEY & LIVING WILLS
It is also important to have a Power of Attorney and Living Will prepared as well. The Power of Attorney is a very powerful document that allows the person you choose as your agent, named in your Power of Attorney, to essentially “step into your shoes”, and make decisions on your behalf regarding financial and other matters in the event that you are unable to manage your own affairs. For instance, the person you choose as your agent would be able sign tax returns, access your bank account, etc. Most commonly, agents use this power to pay your bills if you are in the hospital and unable to do so yourself. A Living Will is a document which allows you to choose your medical treatment in case you become unconscious and unable to tell your doctors the level of care you desire; you can also appoint an agent of your choice to make certain medical decisions according to your instructions, similar to a “Do Not Resuscitate Order.” A Living Will gives you the ability to decide what you want in the event of a serious medical condition, and it takes the burden off of loved ones from having to make many tough medical decisions. When you come in for your free Will consultation, we will discuss all of these documents in detail with you.