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Estate Planning FAQ

Advice from a Pittsburgh Estate Planning Attorney

The process of figuring out your future plans and how to manage your estate can be confusing and complicated. Many people do not fully understand the purpose and function of wills, trusts, annuities, retirement benefits, life insurance, and other estate planning tools, and having the help of a skilled legal professional during this process can be invaluable. Here at Frayer Law Offices, our Pittsburgh estate planning lawyer will walk you through every step of the estate planning process and the detailed aspects involved. By serving the Pittsburgh community for nearly 40 years, our firm has handled a wide range of cases and we have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions regarding estate planning.

Our legal team has taken the time to answer these questions below, and we invite you to call our firm for a personal consultation today. We understand that there are unique factors involved in every case and we are here to help you create the best estate plan for your situation and goals.

What happens if you die without a will?
One of the main reasons why you should create a will is because if you die without one, it is state law that will determine who receives your property and your assets. The property of those who die intestate (without a will) will be divvied up according to the state's plan, and this is not always desired. These laws vary from state to state, but the typical distribution would be to your spouse and children, and possibly other family members. This may or may not reflect your actual wishes for your estate, and that is why creating a will is the best way to accommodate your personal preferences.

What is the benefit of owning life insurance?
When you purchase life insurance on your own life, you have the option of designating one or more beneficiaries to receive the insurance proceeds upon your death, or you can make the life insurance proceeds payable to a trust or your probate estate. When you designate your insurance proceeds to be payable to your estate, the payments will be determined in accordance with the terms of your will. Insurance definitely plays a critical role in estate planning and should be factored into every aspect of your estate plan.

Why should I consider a power-of-attorney?
The power of attorney document is an essential part of your estate plan because it gives one or more persons the power to act on your behalf regarding particular activities. This power may be limited or general in application, and may take place immediately or only upon occurrence of a specific future event. The main benefit of giving authority to another person is convenience. For example, if you are selling assets and do not want to have to physically appear to close the transaction, your power of attorney can grant authority to another person to close the transaction on your behalf.

Who is granted power if I did not create a power of attorney?
If you become unable to manage your business or personal affairs because of incapacitation or another reason, the power to make decisions about your estate and affairs will fall on the person chosen in your power of attorney. If you have not created this document, the court will usually appoint one or more persons to act on your behalf. These people are referred to as guardians, committees, or conservators, depending on your local state law.

What happens to my power of attorney if I move?
Because estate planning laws vary from state to state, your power of attorney may need to be updated if you move to another state. Some states also require a renewal of the power of attorney in order for it to continue to be valid, but most states permit a "durable" power of attorney that remains valid until you die or revoke the document. Whenever you move, however, it is a good idea to take the opportunity to update your power of attorney so that you are confident it is still legal.

Is there ever any benefit to probate?
Many people view a living trust as a method for avoiding probate upon your death. Probate is the court-supervised process that occurs after death and transfers property over to selected recipients according to the terms of a will. Property and assets such as life insurance, retirement plans, real estate accounts held in joint names, or bank accounts held in joint names, will not pass through the probate process, and neither will property that is included in the terms of a living trust. There may or may not be actual value in avoiding probate, however, because probate is not always as bad as it seems.

Probate in Pennsylvania is not as expensive as it seems, and the fees surrounding probate are minimal in Pennsylvania. State laws have also simplified and expedited the court proceedings so that they are more efficient for smaller estates. Whereas a properly drafted will can eliminate some of the probate steps, it is rare that a living trust can totally avoid probate, and so you should take this into consideration when you are in the estate planning process. For more information and clarification, call an experienced Pittsburgh estate planning lawyer at Frayer Law Offices today.

Can anyone create a will?
You have the right to create a will if you are over the age of 18 and you are mentally competent. Both of these requirements are essential because if you are not competent to create your own will then it may be declared invalid upon your death. Oftentimes heirs will dispute a will in probate, and may argue that the grantor did not have the mental capacity to make a rational decision. For this reason, if you believe that your family members are going to dispute your will you should have a thorough medical exam completed before you sign the will so that there will not be any disputes. If you meet both of these qualifications, then you have the right to create a will?

What is the difference between a will and a trust?
A will is a legal document which lists your properties and estate and names heirs which will have the right to take certain properties into their possession upon your death. A trust is an arrangement concerning your estate where the estate is placed in a type of account governed by a trustee and allotted to beneficiaries based on the terms that you create in your trust documents. While in some ways these documents are very similar, there are some major differences. For one, wills can only go into effect an individual’s death.

How do I know that my estate plan will work?
One of the main problems with many estate plans is that they are useless when they are actually needed. How can you be sure that your estate plan will work? The main reasons why these plans fail include a failure to include certain documents, the overlooking of how assets are titled, a failure to properly address family dynamics and problems, and more. You should take control of your assets now when you are alive and well, and make sure that you create an estate plan that gives you total access to and control over your property right now.

Where should I keep my estate planning documents?
The answer to this question simple, keep your estate planning documents in a safe and accessible place. Many people think that their safe deposit box is the best place to store their original estate planning documents, but you must find out the specific rules that your state has for safe deposit boxes. Sometimes, if the box is solely in your name without a joint owner, your family will have to go through the work to obtain a court order in order to open the box and remove the documents. Your loved ones won't have immediate access to your estate plan if you become disabled or suddenly pass away, so you should consider placing the box in the name of your Revocable Living Trust instead.

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A trust can sometimes be put into effect while a person is still living under certain circumstances. Wills do not hold monetary value of any type of asset. They are simply a set of instructions as to how to handle the assets that are in a person’s estate. Trusts actually hold a dollar amount that can be invested and can increase in value as the years go by. Trusts cam also provide a stream, of income to the beneficiary, while a will can only instruct that an heir should obtain a certain amount of money or property.

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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.