Estate Planning and Probate Questions Answered
Attorney Greg Biernacki answers common questions about estate planning and the probate process.
- Important life events should trigger a review of your estate planning documents.
- Probate occurs when beneficiaries are not designated for significant assets, but you can avoid this with proper planning.
- An estate planning attorney’s role is to not only streamline the planning process but thoroughly answer your questions throughout the process – something the online services can’t replace.
How Often Should You Review and Update an Estate Plan in Pennsylvania?
Estate plans should be reviewed regularly at major life events: birth, marriage, death, if someone is ill, etc. You can make updates and changes at any time, except with an irrevocable trust. However, you can always amend or revoke a last will and testament, power of attorney, or healthcare power of attorney.
When Is the Best Time to Set Up Your Estate Planning Documents?
You should establish your estate planning documents the sooner, the better. Often, I see clients for the first time when couples get married. If you wait too long, you could become incapacitated, in which case you wouldn’t be able to execute those documents. If this were to happen, you would need to establish a guardianship, which is more costly, and you don’t necessarily get to choose your guardian.
Do I Need a Pittsburgh Estate Planning Attorney or Can I Do It on My Own With an Online Service?
You may get by with an online service, but I recommend sitting down to speak with a knowledgeable attorney. As attorneys, we have liabilities that attach to us—if we mess up, we pay for our mistakes. The same can’t be said for those online estate planning services. I don’t think you can ask those tools all the important questions, where an attorney is just a phone call away.
What Are Some Factors That Force Probate to Occur in Pennsylvania?
Probate occurs when there is a deceased individual with assets that have no beneficiary listed. Probate assets include,
- investment property,
- bank accounts, etc.
Those assets would have to be controlled by the decedent’s will. If there is a lack of a will, the decedent dies in intestate, setting off a different set of issues.
How Do You Avoid Probate?
There are options to avoid probate, but they are not necessarily right for every situation. You could transfer your assets during your lifetime, but that could bring potential tax consequences. You could transfer your assets to a trust—revocable or irrevocable—but again, those have tax consequences and there are costs to consider. Oftentimes, the more control that you have, the fewer tax benefits you have.
What Is the Role of My Attorney in Probate?
Your attorney should make the process of probate as seamless as possible, guiding you along the way. They should walk you through the process, from filing the petition to probate to filing the final settlement agreement at court. They may take the accounting through the audit stage; this includes selling the house, filing the inheritance tax return, advising the client, and preparing and sending the accounting to the ultimate beneficiaries. They may also distribute the assets when the process is near to complete.
Can Someone Navigate Probate on Their Own?
People try to navigate probate on their own, but it generally turns into a nightmare. The average person generally misses many requirements and things are done haphazardly.
Many of the tasks we complete, whether it’s an assessment appeal or probate, can be done by the average person. But often we end up fixing the mistakes that are easy to make due to inexperience. Clients come to our firm in an expensive way, to fix mistakes that would have been relatively inexpensive if a qualified attorney had done it from the start.
You can certainly download a form, but it’s not going to answer the questions you have. You hope you get everything right, but the problem is you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s where a good attorney comes in, to fill in those blanks.
For more information on Estate Planning in the State of Pennsylvania, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (412) 557-7726 today.
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