Pennsylvania Estate Planning Basics
Estate planning attorney Greg Biernacki breaks down the basics of estate planning.
- Essential estate planning tools allow you to be in control of your assets even after death.
- Every estate has different needs. A will may be enough, but a trust may better suit your situation.
- Estate planning isn’t just for planning your death but also documenting decisions used during your lifetime.
What Is Estate Planning? Do We Need It in Pennsylvania?
Estate planning is essentially the process of naming people or organizations you wish to receive your possessions after you die and taking the necessary steps required to carry out these wishes. Estate planning tools may include,
- health care power of attorney,
- a living will, and
- financial power of attorney.
Is Estate Planning Just Preparation for When I Die, or Can It Benefit Me During My Lifetime?
Proper estate planning will include detailed instructions for your personal care should you become incapacitated, like in a hospital for surgery, as well as provisions for end-of-life care in the event you have a terminal condition or are in a state of permanent unconsciousness. For these purposes, an advanced directive is used. Finally, a good estate plan will include provisions for taking care of your financial affairs if you are not in a position to make those decisions.
What Is a Will? In Pennsylvania, Is Just a Will Enough?
A last will and testament is a legal document that communicates a person’s final wishes pertaining to their assets and beneficiaries. Is it enough in Pennsylvania? It could be. But every individual’s situation is different.
What Is a Trust? What Are the Common Types of Trusts Used in Pennsylvania?
A trust is just another method of transferring assets, it’s another type of estate plan. A trust is a fiduciary relationship in which you give another party the authority to handle your assets for the benefit of a third party, your beneficiaries, upon your death. There are three parties involved:
- Settlor. The creator of the trust.
- Trustee. Who will handle the assets of the trust, generally upon the death of the settlor.
- Beneficiary. Who ultimately gets the asset.
- There are two common trusts used in Pennsylvania.
- A testamentary trust is one where you essentially include your will.
- A living trust is a separate document on its own used to avoid probate, in cases of second marriages, or to qualify for Medicaid.
Oftentimes people use a living trust in situations of second marriages because it’s easier to administer assets in second marriages when considering blended families and asset protection. Whereas the use of a living trust to qualify for Medicaid is a specialized situation.
How Do I Plan for Possible Incapacity During My Lifetime?
A little foresight goes a long way in planning for possible incapacity. The sooner you plan, the better chance you have to prevent issues. People should have healthcare powers of attorney and financial powers of attorney in place those situations can be handled much more easily if they occur than they would be if you didn’t have those documents.
What Health Care Related Planning Documents Are Necessary Under Pennsylvania Law?
No health care planning documents are required in Pennsylvania, but you should consider a health care power of attorney and an advanced health care directive. A durable health care power of attorney enables someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions. It could be as simple as routine surgery or a traumatic car accident. A durable health care power of attorney enables your agent to
- give, withhold, or withdraw consent to medical treatment;
- employ and discharge healthcare personnel; and
- gain access to your medical records to assist them in making decisions on your behalf.
The appointment of a guardian could be required in the absence of a healthcare directive and power of attorney. These proceedings are costly, time intensive, and you don’t necessarily have the option to have the guardian of your own choosing appointed on your behalf. That ultimate decision lies with the court.
What Is the Difference Between a Health Care Directive and a Power of Attorney?
An advanced health care directive deals with situations when you are in a terminal condition or state of permanent unconsciousness; essentially when dealing with end-of-life care. A health care power of attorney is not necessarily used in a life-ending situation, but rather when a medical decision needs to be made and the patient doesn’t have the ability to communicate that decision to a medical professional.
A financial power of attorney is another important component of estate planning. A financial power of attorney is typically used to pay your bills, or pay for your care in the event that you are unable to do so. The alternative to a financial power of attorney is establishing guardianship. Guardianship is much more expensive, and you don’t necessarily get to choose your guardian. With a power of attorney, it’s taken care of in advance, it’s much cheaper, and you can choose your agent. It’s vital that the person that you name as your power of attorney (agent) is trustworthy and has some level of financial literacy.
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.