When it comes to estate planning, most people are aware of the importance of having a will. However, there are a number of other legal instruments that can help ensure you accomplish your objectives — and have peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out when you pass away. Since every estate is unique, an estate planning attorney can discuss your specific family and financial circumstances to determine the documents you will need. However, below are several estate planning documents that should be included in every Pennsylvania estate plan.
A last will and testament is the foundation of every estate plan. This is the document that explains how you wish your property and assets to be divided upon your passing. In addition to designating beneficiaries to whom your property will be distributed, you can name an executor who will be responsible for ensuring the terms of your will are satisfied. You can also name a guardian for your minor children and a caretaker for your pets.
Not to be confused with a last will and testament, a living will outlines your wishes for end of life medical care. This document specifies any life-sustaining treatment you want or don’t want to receive, including your preferences regarding intubation and resuscitation. A living will can be revoked or changed at any time.
A healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a person to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you cannot make these decisions for yourself. Unlike a will, which only becomes effective upon your passing, this document gives someone else the authority to make decisions about medical treatment and your healthcare in the event of incapacitation.
A financial power of attorney gives an agent of your choice the legal authority to manage your property and make financial decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. This can include the responsibility for paying bills, managing real estate, depositing checks, selling your assets, and entering into contracts. Like a healthcare power of attorney, this is an essential document in every comprehensive estate plan to ensure your affairs are in order if you become unable to handle them yourself.
A letter of instruction is a critical — but often overlooked — document in an estate plan. While you can include instructions for your funeral and burial in your will, it’s important to understand that a will might not be read or even located until weeks after your passing. Although it has no legal authority, a letter of instruction can also be used to inform your family where certain documents are kept and provide an explanation regarding your final wishes outlined in your will.
There are many different types of trusts that can be used as part of a thorough estate plan, depending upon your goals. You might consider placing your property and assets into an irrevocable trust to help your loved ones avoid the public probate process or reduce their estate tax consequences. A trust can also place certain conditions on how the assets are distributed — for instance, you can specify that the assets you have bequeathed to a loved one must be held in the trust until they reach a certain age. Trusts can also be set up to bequeath money to charities and accomplish a variety of other financial objectives that you may want to include in your estate plan.
Beneficiary designations should be drafted for life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts. This directive allows the person of your choosing to receive the assets immediately upon your passing. The assets in these accounts do not need to go through probate if a beneficiary designation is in place.
This is an often overlooked component to include in an estate plan. As more and more information is stored online, on social media, on computers, or other devices, it’s vital to ensure you draft instructions for your loved ones on how to access your digital assets. You should make a list of all accounts, passwords, and login information and ensure it is in a location where they will be able to find it. Notably, Pennsylvania recently passed the Digital Assets Act, a law that allows you to designate an individual to access, modify, and delete your digital assets upon your passing — or to handle your digital assets in the event of incapacity.
Estate planning can be complex. Not only must you ensure that all our assets are addressed, but there are certain legal requirements that must be met for the estate planning documents to be effective. Located in Exeter, Pennsylvania, The Kulick Law Firm offers high quality legal services to clients in Northeastern Pennsylvania for their estate planning needs. Call (570) 203-2756 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can assist you.