Effective estate planning is crucial to providing security and peace of mind to both yourself and your loved ones. Many people misunderstand what estate planning is or wait too long to get started. Others mistakenly think they can get by using standard forms or other cut-rate legal services, only to leave their families with a mess to contend with years down the road. As an estate planning law firm, our goal at Long & Long, LLC is to provide our clients straightforward advice and cost-effective estate planning services that fit their individual needs. We take the time to listen to each client, so we can identify their goals and issues and then apply our more than 90 years of collective legal experience to create a plan that achieves those goals.
Estate planning is a collaborative process that is much more productive when the client has a strong grasp of the issues. We would like to provide some insight into frequent questions and misconceptions have about estate planning, so you can better understand what our law firm can do for you.
*Note, nothing herein is meant as a replacement for competent and personalized legal advice rendered after a thorough evaluation of your situation.
You need to start thinking about estate planning soon. One of the essential purposes of estate planning is to ensure the people who depend on you can have prompt access to your property should you die unexpectedly. While many people assume that estate planning is something that can be put off until their twilight years, it is something that should be done as soon as they start to accumulate property. New parents especially should consider putting an estate plan in place shortly after the birth of their first child.
You should review your estate plan periodically to ensure it still accurately reflects your intentions. More importantly, however, you should be prepared to alter your estate plan after any major life change such as: marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a family member named in your estate plan or the purchase or sale of any major property. While Pennsylvania’s probate laws address many of these contingencies, the outcome they dictate may not be the same as what you would have wanted.
Your will should address all the property in your probate estate. This includes anything that does not otherwise transfer by operation of law. Property held jointly, investments, accounts and insurance policies with a designated beneficiary transfer outside of probate and do not need to be addressed in a will. As a practical matter, most well drafted wills contain a residuary clause that covers any property not specifically addressed.
The only legal requirement for someone to serve as a personal representative or agent is that they are legally competent and over the age 18. As a practical matter, you want to pick someone you trust as well as someone who will be able to perform the duties required. Being a personal representative can be overwhelming, so it is important to make sure they are willing to accept the responsibility. Additionally, naming an executor who lives far away from you also may not be a good idea, as an executor is often needed to sign documents or make decisions that could be delayed by distance. While it can be tempting to name more than one co-executor or co-agent, this can often cause problems and make the administration of your estate more difficult.
If you die without a will, any probate property you have is distributed according to Pennsylvania’s rules of intestate succession. If there is a surviving spouse, they usually receive more than half of the estate. Surviving children receive the remainder. If there are no surviving children, surviving parents receive the remainder. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate goes to children, then parents, then brothers and sisters, then grandparents and so on.
Keep your original will in a safe place and make sure all your executors and contingent executors know where to find it should something happen to you. If your will cannot be found among your possessions, it may be presumed destroyed and therefore invalid. Keeping a will in a safe deposit box at a bank may also make it difficult for your executor to access it quickly, but it can be accessed if needed.