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Kennett Square Probate & Estate Law Blog

Reducing the risk of probate litigation over business matters

For many Pennsylvania business owners, addressing the issue of how to pass on their business to the intended heirs is a top priority. There are a number of options for transferring business interests, all of which share the risk of probate litigation. Finding a solution that minimizes that risk is essential to preserving wealth for one's heirs. As with so many estate planning matters, having a clearly outlined plan in place is the best way to begin.

No matter if a business is family owned, closely-held or publicly-held, there is a potential for legal wrangling over the distribution of assets. One way to address this risk is to create a clear buy-sell agreement. This agreement outlines the value of a business and determines a plan for distributing assets to the proper parties. This approach gives business owners a great deal of control over how their business will be handed down to loved ones.

Wills can guide the distribution of real estate

Many Philadelphia residents have worked long and hard to pay off their home, and plan to pass that asset down to loved ones when the time comes. The manner in which real estate is handled within estate planning can be complicated, however, when the proper steps are not taken. For many families, wills are a good starting point in the estate planning process.

With a will, an individual can outline the manner in which real estate should be handed down to loved ones. Absent a will, the state's probate rules will guide that process, and the outcome could be far different than what was intended. This is an area in which simply stating one's intentions is not enough: those wishes need to be put into writing in a format that the state will honor.

Estate planning can help avoid negative outcomes

Many Philadelphia residents provide full-time care for elderly family members. Doing so is truly a labor of love and an act of selflessness that is admirable. It is important for family members to understand the full ramifications of caring for a loved one and the dangers of doing so without adequate estate planning.

An example of this involves a man who has spent the last six years providing live-in care for his elderly mother. As her condition worsened, her son stood by her to help keep her comfortable at home instead of placing her in a facility where the care would be impersonal. When it was recently determined that the woman required full-time residential medical care, the difficult decision was made to move her into a nursing home.

Are digital wills the wave of the estate planning future?

More and more people are turning to technology to improve their everyday lives, and the applications seem endless. In terms of estate planning, technology offers the chance to create digital wills, which serve to put one's estate plan into a completely digital format. While this ability appeals to some in Philadelphia, many others have concerns about taking their estate planning to the web.

A digital will can be best conceived as an online storage of one's estate planning documents. In theory, having these important documents stored online could prevent loss due to fire, theft, flood or other dangers. Online storage could also make it easier for family members to access these documents when the time comes.

Will your heirs be able to understand your estate plan?

Estate planning is not a one-time event; the best plans require periodic revisions to include newly acquired assets, changes to a family's structure and improvements in asset protection. As such, an estate plan becomes something of a living entity and will shift and grow over time. If those changes are not properly organized, the end result can be a hodgepodge of planning tools and changes that Pennsylvania heirs will have to disentangle when the time comes to set those plans into motion.

Organization is an aspect of estate planning that receives very little attention. However, without having a system in place to keep estate planning documents in order, it is entirely possible that portions of the plan will never be carried out. It is important to review and maintain the organizational side of an estate plan every time changes are made.

Trusts are essential when estate planning for children

Very few Philadelphia residents enjoy dwelling on their own demise. For parents, contemplating what might take place if we die before our children are grown is even more difficult. That said, it is absolutely essential that parents take the time to create an estate planning solution that would provide for minor children in the event of such a loss.

Once a guardian has been chosen, the next step lies in setting up a plan to provide financial support for their needs. One approach is to create a trust that will give the guardian the ability to cover costs such as tuition and basic living expenses. The remainder is paid out to the child once he or she reaches the age of maturity.

Benefits of trusts versus a simple will

Virtually all Philadelphia residents are aware that they need to put their final wishes into writing. For many, the vehicle that they choose to complete this important step is a simple will. While wills do provide a basic level of estate planning coverage, there are other options that offer many more benefits. Often, trusts are a far better fit for an individual's needs, and they are not much more complicated to create than a simple will.

For one, a trust allows for a much greater level of privacy. Wills go through probate, which is a public proceeding. That means that the details of who is tagged to get what will be made available to anyone who wishes to look into the matter. Not only can this cause a great deal of contention among heirs, but it also gives loved ones very little privacy as they accept the wealth that has been passed down to them.

Tips for using safe deposit boxes within estate planning

Once an estate plan has been drafted, many Philadelphia residents are unsure where to store those important documents. Keeping them in the home is a common choice, but that leaves a risk that they could be damaged in the event of fire or flood, or could be accessed by an unauthorized party. For many, storing estate planning documents within a safe deposit box is a good option. However, there are some considerations to be made to ensure that these documents are easily accessible when the time comes to call them into action.

The best way to ensure that one's chosen proxy is able to gain access to the contents of a safe deposit box is to meet with a representative of the bank to go over its policies. Different banking institutions have different rules concerning when and how individuals can access these secured storage options. One way to address the matter is to set up a joint account, which is often the path chosen by married couples. Be sure to ask if the bank will allow a surviving spouse to remove items from the box once the other party has passed away.

Change your perspective when considering heirs

For many in Pennsylvania, a primary focus within the estate planning process is to create a plan to distribute wealth equally among surviving children. This is an admirable goal, and one that can go a long way toward avoiding bitterness and resentment among siblings. That said, many parents take a very one-sided approach when it comes to estate planning and only think about what they would like to give, as opposed to what their heirs might like to receive.

For example, a family may own a vacation home on a lake. The summer house might hold a great many memories and may have been passed down through the family for generations. It is easy to assume that the property should be handed down to one's children with everyone receiving an equal share, but in reality, this arrangement might not be what a group of siblings wants.

Durable powers of attorney for unmarried couples

Young love is a powerful thing, and virtually every Pennsylvania resident can remember a time in which the possibilities of life seemed endless and future happiness felt like a certainty. While this is a normal part of early adulthood, young people must take care that they are not overlooking important needs while swept up in a committed but unmarried relationship. For such couples, durable powers of attorney offer a way of legitimizing one's partner as an authorized proxy in the event of an incapacitating illness or injury.

Very few of us make detailed plans for such a distressing event, preferring instead to rely on statistics to keep us safe from harm. In reality, however, accidents and illnesses do occur, and can pose a number of difficulties for young people who have not taken the appropriate estate planning steps needed to name an individual to make vital medical and financial decisions. In the best case scenarios, a great deal of confusion makes an already difficult time even harder to handle. In the worst examples, one's partner can become embroiled in conflict with one's family members.

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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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