I am routinely approached by clients who have put off making a will, often for many years. I understand that confronting the idea of one’s own death is not an easy thing to do, but the writing of a valid Pennsylvania will is extraordinarily important, for several reasons:
1. A Valid Pennsylvania Will is Enforceable after your Death
This may sound obvious, but it is extremely important from a legal perspective. A valid Pennsylvania will is a legal document that states your post-death intentions with regard to the disposition of your property, the guardianship of your minor children, and the handling of your estate. Very few other documents or agreements are enforceable after death, and a well-written will is very difficult for anyone to contest. The writing of a will offers you the opportunity to gain certainty and peace of mind over what will happen after you are gone.
2. Without a Will, Pennsylvania Law Decides Who Gets What
If you die without a will, the disposition of your property will be decided by Pennsylvania Law, under the Pennsylvania Intestacy Statute, 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2104, et seq. Many people assume that, without a will, the law will give everything to their spouse, or their children – this is not always the case. The law provides for inheritance by parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, or even cousins. While spouses and children will always receive something under this law, it is often not the amount or the percentage that the deceased person intended. Further, if you have a domestic partner (non-spouse), or close friend who you would like to have something when you pass away, the law will leave them out of the estate unless you have a valid will naming them as a beneficiary.
3. Without a Will, Pennsylvania Law Decides Who Will Care for your Children
If you die without a will, and you have minor children, who will care for them? The answer is that the court will decide. One or more persons will file a petition to be appointed guardian of the child(ren), and the court will conduct a hearing to determine who is best suited to care for them. These proceedings often lead to disputes among family members, and can certainly be difficult for the child. If you prepare a Pennsylvania Will, you can appoint a guardian of your minor children. The knowledge that your children will be cared for by a loved one will provide you with invaluable peace of mind.
4. A Will Can Prevent Family Disputes
We have all witnessed it. The passing of a loved one often leads to unfortunate family squabbles. The majority of these disagreements can be stemmed or eliminated by the drafting of a well-written will. This is because the will provides your family with tangible evidence of your intentions, and therefore eliminates the basis for many disagreements.
5. A Will Allows You to Appoint an Executor
One of the most important reasons to make a will is that you can appoint a trusted, responsible person to handle your affairs after you are gone. Without a will, the court will choose a family member (or two) or other beneficiary of your estate to manage the estate. This leads to more family squabbles, and sometimes the person chosen is not the best person for the job. Why? Being an executor (or executrix, for a female) is a difficult job. They will have to manage the estate finances and make sure that the distributions of property are made to the correct beneficiaries at the right time. An attorney will help with this, but it is still a complex process that many people are not equipped to handle, especially in a time of grief. With a valid Pennsylvania Will, you can name a person who you know will be able to handle the minutiae of the estate, and who will be diplomatic enough so as not to cause arguments among your friends and relatives.
6. A Will Can Avoid Death Tax Liability
Another reason that many people create a will is to avoid tax liability. If your estate is subject to the Federal Estate Tax, then a valid Pennsylvania will, with the appropriate trust provisions, can offer a significant tax savings, leaving you with more of your hard earned assets to pass on to the next generation.
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To schedule a consultation, Contact Marshall D. Chriswell