More on Estate Planning Basics: What Documents Do I Need?

Your Complete Guide to Estate Planning – CHAPTER 1

It’s true that estate planning primarily involves the creation of legally valid documents and directives that accomplish your end-of-life wishes. While it also calls for thoughtful conversations with loved ones and often a bit of soul-searching, it is strategizing with an experienced estate planning advisor and assuring that you have all of your documentation in order that is ultimately crucial.

As part of our ongoing post series, your complete guide to estate planning is right here on our blog to make navigating the ins and outs of estate planning in Pennsylvania easy and worry-free. Here’s what you need to think about in terms of key estate planning documents.

Common Estate Planning Documentation You Need to Consider

Today we’re taking a closer look at documents that should be included in an effective estate plan. It’s important to remember that your unique family structure and financial position will determine whether you need specific documentation and directives in place, but everyone needs a will.

Last Will & Testament

We have often covered this idea here on the blog, but it bears repeating—even if you don’t own much property or have vast, celebrity-level financial resources, having a professionally prepared will is a loving gift to your family and friends. Additionally, creating a plan to revisit your will on a somewhat regular basis helps you avoid many of the pitfalls that can derail your estate plan.

So, how do you get started on putting your will together? First, you’ll need to take an inventory of all of your assets, both tangible (your home, vehicles, valuable collections, personal possessions, etc.) and intangible (financial products like checking and savings accounts, investments, and even life insurance policies). The IRS considers just about everything you own in your name to be an asset of your estate, and your will needs to account for all of this property so it can be passed on to your loved ones according to your intentions. 

Power of Attorney (POA) Designations

A power of attorney is an essential estate planning document that allows you to designate a specific trusted person to be in charge of your general affairs, or perhaps just a particular project, like the sale of your home.

POA designations can be shaped to accommodate a variety of circumstances. However, in the absence of any power of attorney documentation, should you become unable to make important decisions for yourself, your loved ones may need to petition the court for guardianship to legally handle your affairs. It goes without saying that involving the courts in this way can add stress, hardship and significant expense to an already emotionally charged situation, and it’s entirely avoidable.

Living Will

An end-of-life advance directive, which is essentially instructions for healthcare decision-making when a person is in a terminal condition and cannot express their wishes, living wills can promote decision-making unity among your family members during difficult times.

Creating a living will is one of the areas of estate planning that is best undertaken with professional guidance so that it can be tailored to your unique religious and philosophical beliefs. Often, common clauses in living wills may not be consistent with certain personal convictions, and individuals unknowingly sign directives that actually counter their faith.

Trusts

Trusts are a useful tool for handling an estate’s assets under very specific circumstances. Leaving a legacy for a charity you value, protecting certain assets, and ensuring that minors or disabled family members are properly cared for are a few examples of things trusts can accomplish. They are also often a vehicle to help minimize death taxes and the expenses associated with estate administration.

There are many different kinds of trusts that you’ve likely heard of including charitable trusts, irrevocable trusts, asset protection trusts, and living or revocable trusts. The differences between these various arrangements can be confusing, and often, they are marketed and sold to individuals who do not actually need them at great expense to accomplish unnecessary estate planning goals.  

As with living wills, the best way to understand whether trusts are right for your unique financial situation and family structure is to work with experienced probate and estates attorneys like the partners at May, May & Zimmerman.

Special Considerations for Retirement Community Residents

Often, the decision to move into a retirement community or enter a nursing facility is based on the desire for a lifestyle change or out of medical necessity. Many people don’t realize the estate planning implications that signing contracts for these organizations and facilities can have. One major issue that has been making headlines recently are forced arbitration clauses, which are often overlooked in contracts by individuals and their power of attorney designees.

If you are a resident of a long term or nursing care facility in the Lancaster, PA area who has not thoroughly planned your estate, it’s not too late to work with one of our attorneys to assure that your family and friends do not face any unnecessary hurdles in carrying out your end-of-life wishes.

A Note on Beneficiary Designation Issues

Just as putting together your will can help you get a good sense of what assets you have to pass on to family and friends, the process offers an excellent opportunity for you to check whether beneficiary designations on certain financial products and accounts are correct.

As we’ve covered in the past, incorrect beneficiary designations will frustrate your estate plan and can cause unnecessary heartache for your heirs later. Especially if you’ve remarried or experienced other major changes to your family structure, it’s wise to review these designations and revise your estate plan, as needed.

Get in Touch with May, May & Zimmerman for Experienced Estate Planning Advice

If you’re ready to draft up your estate plan documents, but you are feeling overwhelmed, we would love to guide you through the process. Here at May, May & Zimmerman, we have been helping Lancaster County, PA families plan for the proper handling of their estates – whether modest or vast – for generations. Contact us today to arrange your free phone consultation.


This blog is being published for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a basic understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By entering this site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. This site should never be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.