The purpose of a will is two-fold. The primary purpose is that when you pass away, your assets end up where you want them to go. If you pass away without a will, law officials follow a strict procedure regarding the placement of your assets, and they may not end up where you intended them to. A will guarantees that what you want to be done after you're gone is what actually happens.
The second reason is to try to reduce expenses-not just the expense of administration, but also taxes. By creating and following a proper plan, there are more funds available for distribution to your loved ones, rather than the government. Proper estate planning includes more than just writing a will. Additional estate planning considerations include whether you should sign a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney, a living will (advance directive) or other important legal documents in addition to your will.
To learn more about estate planning and estate administration, please contact one of our Elderkin attorneys listed in this section.
If you're ready to begin planning call us at (814) 456-4000 to set up a consultation.
Whether you are just starting out after college or you have been retired for years, it is important to have a will. If you are just starting out, your primary assets may include a house, a car, and possibly some items gifted to you. If you have a steady job that provides benefits, then your biggest free and clear assets are probably your life insurance provided by your job and/or some money that has been tucked away by you or for you in a pension plan. Neither life insurance nor pension plan money goes through your estate, so it’s not governed by your will. They go to designated beneficiaries under those benefit contracts. It is important to coordinate your will and estate plan with your retirement benefits and life insurance.
Who can make a will?
Anyone eighteen years of age and of sound mind can sign a will. Someone else can write your will for you, but only you, or someone you give power of attorney to, can sign it to make it official. There are several formalities required in order to make a vaild will, so it is important to see an attorney to make sure that your will will be enforceable when you die.
What are the benefits of having a Will?
A Will allows you to make sure that, after payment of debts and taxes, your possessions go to whomever you select. Without a Will, your things may pass to someone you would rather not have them. Also, depending upon the value of your assets, a Will may include provisions that allow you to pay less in taxes that you would without a Will. And a Will can also make it easier and cheaper for your executor (the person charged with responsibility for your estate) to do his or her job. An attorney can tell you whether or not signing a Will is best for you.
Can a will be changed after it has been made?
A will can always be changed after it has been made, just like a durable power of attorney and an advance medical directive, as long as you are alive and competent (mentally capable of handling your own affairs). If you are not competent, but still alive, a person named as your agent under a durable power of attorney can make specified changes for you to suit your best interest. Such agents must sign what is called a "fiduciary acknowledgement", a document that ensures that they can use their power of attorney only for the benefit of the person who gave them that responsibility. Anyone who uses his or her power of attorney for any other reason is personally liable for any damages that result from such abuse.
If you change your will, you must make sure that your changes are made with the same formalities required when the will was originally signed. If you make a change, but you have not properly signed the changed will, or had the right number of witnesses present to acknowledge your signature, you may invalidate your original will. A lawyer will be able to tell you how best to make any changes you need in your will or other estate planning documents.
What is a durable power of attorney?
A durable power of attorney is a document that gives someone else the right to make your decisions for you while you're still alive. The "durable" nature means that even if you have become incapable of making decisions anymore (such as due to a coma or some other incapacitating factor), the power of attorney continues to be effective -- your named agent can still act under the power of attorney on your behalf.
What is an advance medical directive?
An advance medical directive (also known as a "living will") is a document that tells your health are providers what treatment you want to have, or don't want to have, if you are in a near-death situation and you are not able to make the decision for yourself. It is similar to an advanced medical power of attorney, gives someone else the right to make those medical decisions for you while you're still alive, especially if you can't make those decisions. There may be a time when the only thing keeping you alive is a machine, and it is important for you to document clearly, in advance, either what you want to have done, or to name someone in advance to make those decisions for you.