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The 3 Most Important Estate Planning Document Everyone Needs

Last Will & Testament

If we are fortunate, we all grow older. We all experience life and its set of obstacles. And eventually we all die. I’m often asked what a person NEEDS to have and the repercussions if they don’t.


Truth be told, if you fail to plan ahead, the State has fail safes in place to compensate for your failure to plan for yourself. However, these are not always what you may have chosen nor are they cheap.


As a tax attorney, my thoughts stray to the two most important factors of the fail ages: time and money. Attorneys aren’t cheap. Court processes typically take a long time. Therefore, why not plan for yourself in case you require someone to act on your behalf?


Powers of Attorney for Finance and Medical Care: without the documents specifying who can act for you financially, and who can make medical decisions on your behalf, if you lose capacity, no matter if for a day, a month or indefinitely, can result in Guardianship. This is the process where someone petitions the Court to have the Judge decide on an appropriate person or third party company to act on your behalf and make decisions for you. Sounds simple enough, right? Guardianships are expensive and require depositions of a medical professional, testimony from family and may lead to in-fighting between your family. Fighting leads to delays and higher costs. All which can easily be avoided by drafting the appropriate Durable Financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney.


If you become incapacitated, your Financial Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to act on your behalf and manage your assets. Bill pay is the most common job for your Agent. We may also appoint a backup Agent if the originally appointed Agent is unable to act on your behalf. This role ends upon your passing and then the Executor of your Will takes over. Your Agent and Executor can be the same person but it’s important that each party is aware of their role.


Your Medical Agent doesn’t have to be the same as your Financial Agent. But we can all become unexpectedly ill and it’s important for us to appoint a trusted person to be our advocate and for all of our wishes to be known. Not only end of life goals but also whether you want treated for Covid? Traumatic brain injury? Life support? What about your wishes once you have passed away? Do you want a traditional funeral? Cremation? Or a simple memorial service? All of this can be addressed in your document.


Wills: who do you want to receive your assets and when do you want them to get them after you die? Who is in charge of settling your estate? Do your beneficiaries require a trust to hold their share rather than distributing the funds to them outright when you die? Without a Will, Pennsylvania has you covered: the Intestacy Laws are created to address which loved ones inherit if you don’t have a Will. Sounds great, right? Maybe not. Your spouse or children may not receive the amount you intended or thought they’d receive. Maybe more, maybe less. Blended families usually cause a concern when you learn what the Intestacy Laws dictate. With a Will, you have the ability to voice your true intentions rather than rely on the state.


It’s important to let your wishes be known. All too often families are fractured indefinitely for poor planning. Sometimes the siblings can’t remember why they aren’t speaking but know it all started when mom died. Do your family the favor and allow your wishes be legally drafted so that there aren’t any questions when you go and aren’t here to answer them. Let Thanksgiving continue as a joyful experience remembering the good times rather than a lonely holiday spent in solitude from our loved ones.