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Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Many people believe that they have nothing to leave loved ones when they die or else don't believe that estate planning is important. The downside to that thinking is that more complications and headaches can arise for your relatives and loved ones if you do not have an estate plan in place.

If you would die without a Will and you are married, your spouse doesn't automatically get everything. The spouse (in PA) would get the first $30,000.00 and then the remainder of the estate would be divided between the spouse and your children or parents, if there are no children, or other relatives. For example, if your spouse and let's say, children from a previous marriage don't get along, that can cause a lot of headaches and possible litigation.

If a husband and wife are separated, but not divorced, and one spouse dies, the other spouse would be considered the appropriate administrator of the estate. That spouse could be so estranged that they don't even know about the other spouse's financial affairs or wishes, which can cause confusion and problems among other family members.

There are also tax considerations if there is no will providing for the payment of inheritance tax and taxes on beneficiaries, which again can cause confusion and financial hardship.

There are three basic documents every person should have:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will

A Will sets forth your desires on the individuals, charities, organizations, churches, etc. that are to receive a portion of your estate and how to handle any debt of the Estate. The will also sets forth who is to be responsible for managing the estate (the executor), if a trust is set up in the will for minor children (the trustee) and guardian of any children (the guardian).

A Will can also provide for the responsibility of the Estate to pay the estate debts, inheritance taxes and possible taxes born by beneficiaries.

A Durable Power of Attorney is almost more important than a Will because it provides for how a person's finances are to be handled in the event that the person becomes incapacitated and cannot manage his or her own financial affairs.

A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will are documents that set forth the circumstances you no longer want life saving measures and naming the person or persons who will make those decisions.

There are other estate planning tools as well, such as revocable and irrevocable trusts, pet trusts, (especially those that are expensive to maintain such as horses and parrots), and other financial consideration.

No matter how small or large your estate, it is advisable to meet with an attorney to discuss you estate and to make the appropriate estate planning decisions, for the sake of your wishes as well as for your family.

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If spouses cannot fairly divide the marital property, the court will divide it as fairly as possible. Marital fault is not a consideration in property division. In Pennsylvania, property acquired during the marriage is jointly owned regardless of title. The court considers the duration of the marriage, individual assets and potential for bringing in money, how much each contributed to the marital property, including homemaking, and who will have physical custody of the children.
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