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Kennett Square Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

What happens to my assets if I don't leave a will?

Thinking about your own death can be a scary thing for most people. Because of its finality, a lot of people try to avoid thinking about it until the very last minute. This can sometimes mean though that people will put off handling many of the end-of-life things that are most important to complete before it's too late. One of these things is making a will.

As we have said many times before on this blog, wills are incredibly important legal documents that help determine who will receive what portion of your assets and who will be executor of your will. Wills can also help outline your end-of-life wishes, which makes things easier on your loved ones after you have passed away.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the best beneficiary of them all?

We often encourage people to review their beneficiary forms to make sure the right people are named and all of their personal information is as current as possible. Just remember that a life insurance policy is not the only piece of your estate that has a beneficiary: Your IRAs do, too.

It used to be that a person's most valuable asset was his primary residence. Nowadays, we aren't so sure. The Philadelphia metro area's residential real estate market is on the rebound, but after the foreclosure crisis, the wave of underwater mortgages and a surge in loan refinancing, the home may just be one of a few pretty solid assets.

Administering an estate? You don't have to do it alone

If you have been named as executor to the estate of a friend or family member, then you're undoubtedly going through a range of emotions while also dealing with estate administration. This is an understandably difficult time, and it is a good idea to have a lawyer to help you probate the estate. Having legal help is especially important if an executor doesn't live in the county or state where the will is probated.

Estate administration can be a lengthy and complicated process with numerous phases. Assets have to be gathered, accounted for and managed until probate is finished. Heirs and beneficiaries must also be identified and contacted. Sometimes there is dispute over the contents of the will, and the executor becomes involved in probate litigation.

Thinking about common estate planning mistakes

Any number of life events can get individuals thinking about the end of life. Illness, the death of a loved one, marriage, the birth of a child and even the holiday season can be triggers that inspire individuals to begin estate planning. Estate planning is a critical process which allows you to make your wishes known in regards to end-of-life care, how your assets should be distributed in the event of your death, who should assume guardianship if you and your children’s other parent can no longer care for them and a host of other issues.

If you are thinking about digging into the estate planning process, kudos to you. It is not easy to face the possibility of incapacitation and the inevitability of death. However, it is crucial that you do so in order to best protect your loved ones, honor your property-related wishes and ensure that you receive the kind of care you want in the event that you experience a medical emergency which renders you unable to communicate your wishes on your own.

Trusts, estates, tax laws - what are we doing here?

We have covered a lot of territory in the last few months. Powers of attorney, trusts, estate planning mistakes and strategies -- all good information, if we do say so ourselves. All of these subjects are good topics for conversations with an estate planning attorney, too.

Probate and trusts are generally governed by state law. Some of the laws come from centuries-old practices. Some are the result of someone's mistake -- legislatures like to close the barn door after the horses have bolted. There are also uniform laws that states have adopted as their own; the Uniform Law Commission develops them based on best practices that have emerged over the years.

Is your estate plan as good as it'll get?

We were talking about the basics of estate planning in our last post, especially how difficult some of the decisions can be. For instance, with a durable power of attorney, you will have to figure out who should take on the responsibility of looking after your affairs and making decisions about your medical care. That person is not always your spouse or one of your children. Sometimes it is a trusted friend or an attorney, someone who can be a little more objective.

It is not easy to make those decisions. Nor is it easy to decide which estate planning tools to use. Well, maybe deciding is easy, but making the right choice is more involved than people sometimes think.

Overwhelmed by estate planning? Focus on the basics

It can be very difficult and uncomfortable to discuss what you want to happen with your care and assets when you can no longer make these decisions. However, it can prove to one of the most important steps in protecting yourself and your loved ones.

There are many factors that can come into play in estate planning. In fact, there are so many options and tools available that it can become overwhelming and easy to just put off creating an estate plan. But rather than give up, you can instead concentrate on the basics and your goals.

Durable, Limited, Whatever: Power of Attorney Is a Flexible Tool p4

We are going back to wrap up our discussion about powers of attorney. In our Sept. 22 post, we were going over the different kinds of powers of attorney. As we have said, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania presumes that every power of attorney is durable, that it will remain in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated or passes away. In some cases, the presumption can help to avoid problems for the agent. In others, though, it could cause trouble for both principal and agent.

States differ when it comes to documentation and required language for powers of attorney, as well. In Pennsylvania, until Dec. 31, 2014, a valid power of attorney is a document signed and dated by the principal. The principal may also make his or her mark, or someone else may sign on behalf of and at the direction of the principal.

How to take that first step and draft your estate plan

Drafting, composing and ultimately completing your estate plan is a tough endeavor, there's no doubt about that. But the big hurdle to getting this done is, well, getting it done. So many people procrastinate or avoid dealing with their estate until it's too late, and then, their loved ones are left with a legal mess that will likely leave them with less than what you intended to leave them.

So today, let's talk about a couple of the common reasons people don't confront their estate plan needs and why everyone should do their best to overcome these factors and draw up an estate plan.

Durable, limited, whatever: Power of attorney is a flexible tool p3

We are continuing our discussion of powers of attorney. If that sentence looks awkward, it is probably because the power of attorney is both the document and the authority granted by the document. The principal may grant authority to the agent to do just about anything.

It is important to note that the power of attorney law in Pennsylvania will change on Jan. 1, 2015. We will discuss those changes in a future post.

It is also important to note that states' laws regarding power of attorney vary. As we have noted, according to Pennsylvania law, every power of attorney is presumed to be a durable power of attorney

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

Larmore Scarlett, LLP
123 E. Linden Street,
P.O. Box 384

Kennett Square, PA 19348

Phone: 610-444-3737
Fax: 610-444-9532
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