As we’ve often discussed here on the blog, having a
well-designed estate plan – no matter the value of your property and assets –
is a gift to your family and/or friends who will handle your affairs once
you’re no longer living. And there are a lot of things to consider when working
through the planning process.
From creating your will to ensuring that someone you trust
is designated to make decisions for you via power
of attorney should you become seriously ill or incapacitated, there is much to know and
understand – especially if minimizing complications for your loved ones is
One component of estate planning that may fall under creating more complications for executors and heirs is the living trust. While these asset-protective arrangements have great value in some specific circumstances, unfortunately, living trusts are often sold to people who do not actually need them, and the truth is that they don’t tend to make sense for the average individual or estate plan.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a 1789 letter, “…in this
world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This bit of
wry humor is true, of course. And in our modern time, we’ve figured out how to
combine those certainties with what are
commonly known as “death taxes.”
As with most things today, the term “death taxes” is politically charged – the name was devised (likely in the 1990s) to describe estate and inheritance taxes by opponents looking to have those repealed. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful, but the morbid name stuck.
It’s true that probate can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and it’s important to approach the responsibility in an organized manner. Once you’ve worked through all of the preparatory steps and paid the filing fee, it’s time to get down to the business of probate.
Don’t forget to stay organized, and remember that you can consult an attorney at any time for help if you get stuck. Just because you have not worked with an attorney from the beginning does not mean that you can’t call for a rescue if you run into trouble with creditors, family members, or anything else about the probate process.
Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas judge’s decision not to enforce an arbitration agreement in a nursing home contract that was signed by a resident’s wife without his knowledge. Despite that decision, numerous courts in Pennsylvania and around the country have enforced compulsory arbitration clauses, which are often unknowingly signed by consumers, the elderly and others, which force people to give up their right to a jury trial.
Most people are overwhelmed by the idea of probating an estate in Pennsylvania, if they even understand the process at all. For good reason, no two estates are alike and not all will even require the formal probate process. For those that do, probate can become time-consuming and expensive, depending on the total value of the estate and other factors related to debt and assets. So it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re facing the probate process.
Because there are so many ways that your wealth and assets can be passed on to your surviving family members and other heirs, it is easy to ruin even carefully thought-out estate plans. Your last will and testament may not be the final word on how assets are distributed to others, although many people mistakenly believe this is the case. Beneficiary designations on financial products, for instance, can override your will, and many common estate planning pitfalls may cause heartache and infighting among family members. Protect yourself by getting to know the major “land mines” that can potentially blow up your estate plan. Continue reading “Avoid the Pitfalls that can Derail Your Estate Plan”
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May, May & Zimmerman, LLP 49 North Duke Street
Lancaster, PA 17602