Wills and Powers of Attorney

Not Having a Will Can Be One of the Most Dangerous Decisions You Can Make

What happens to your loved ones if you don't have a Will?  Or if you are injured and can't speak for yourself and there is no Power of Attorney to express your wishes?  In these situations, someone else will speak for you, maybe with or without your best intentions in mind.   And if you haven't reviewed your Will or other testamentary documents in the last five or ten years, you should pull them out and see if you need to update.  

A bit of estate planning now can go a long way.  Most people do not plan for long term care, and how to manage their assets to make sure that they care cared for if they can no longer care for themselves.  How you structure your Will and other documents can make or break your estate plans.

Wills

Every adult needs a will.  For something.  If you die, does your spouse take all?  In Pennsylvania, the answer is NO!  If you don't have a will, your spouse gets the first $30,000 and the rest goes to the children, if you have any.  I experienced this personally when my mother died without a Will.  This gets very complicated very quickly.  

 

What happens if the Will goes missing?  This is a somewhat complex procedure, and you should engage an attorney to help you navigate the minefield.  Petitions before the Pennsylvania Orphans' Court or the New Jersey Surrogate Office are tricky and can cause problems.

Wills can help manage a variety of problems.  Who takes care of the pets?  Which family or friends get what assets?  What charities should benefit from my estate and how much?  How do I pass my assets to my family?  

In Pennsylvania, we tax estates.  From the first dollar.   Your accountant may not complete the inheritance tax forms.  Pennsylvania considers this tax return the practice of law.  Most accountants may not even be familiar with the process.  The firm can help you navigate this difficult and time consuming process. 

Powers of Attorney

If something happens to you and you can't speak for yourself, who speaks for you?  If you have a Power of Attorney, you speak for yourself.   If not, someone has to ask the Court what to do.  

Powers of Attorney can be tricky.  Pennsylvania has specific requirements for any POA.   POAs can be misused for a variety of reasons.  We've all heard of someone having property taken from them under a POA (valid or forged).  Raiders Law has managed cases concerning forged POAs, and can help guide you to identify a suspect or defective POA. 

Some POAs are general, with broad powers that allows the Agent to take a wide variety of actions on your behalf.  Other times, you may execute a limited POA to allow for a specific function - someone can sign documents on your behalf, for example.  You should discuss any POAs with your attorney before signing anything.

Power of Attorney law continues to evolve.  The form and content of today's POA is far more comprehensive than even ten years ago.  Most older POAs are missing critical protections for you. 

Living Wills, Also Known as Advanced Medical Directives

What will the doctor or hospital do if you are at end stage and cannot speak for yourself?  If you have a Advanced Medical Directive, or "Living Will", then the medical providers will know what you want.  As long as they have a current copy.  If not, you may have life support longer than you may have wanted.   

Pennsylvania has a Living Will protocol which protects you, your loved ones and your medical providers.  Your loved ones and your providers want what is best for you.   Take the time to let them know.

Trusts

Trusts may be useful in some situations.  Before you take that leap, make sure you are sure that a trust actually helps you.  Many times, attorneys will insert trusts into Wills, especially if one or more of the beneficiaries may be under age 21 or have special needs.  Sometimes, a stand alone trust will help manage family assets or businesses.  

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