Top 7 Estate Planning Questions That Clients Ask
1. What if I don’t have a Power of Attorney, what happens?
You need to make sure you have a Power of Attorney, no matter what age you are. If something happens to you and you can’t make decisions for yourself, you need to make sure someone is appointed to handle your affairs. If you don’t, a guardian may need to be appointed for you. That means going through the courts, something that no one wants to be bothered with.
2. Is probate a big deal in Pennsylvania? Do I need a living trust?
Probate is not the scary process that it used to be, at least in Pennsylvania. Most people in Pennsylvania opt to have a will over a living trust because probate is rather straightforward. Sometimes, an attorney may need to be retained to help with probate affairs, but many times, a family can do it themselves.
3. Why do I need a will if most of my assets are joint or have beneficiaries?
Regardless of if your assets are jointly titled and have beneficiary designations, it still makes a lot of sense to have a will.
First, you may acquire new assets or move assets around during the course of your life. You may forget to re-title beneficiaries, or you may not title the asset jointly.
Second, there are bound to be assets that WILL pass through the will! It always happens. Plus, even if that doesn’t happen, a will is important for other reasons, such as making sure you have an Executor appointed.
Finally, if you are married, a will may not be as important upon the first-to-die, but upon the second-to-die, a will becomes essential because it’s likely that many of those joint assets are no longer jointly held, and will pass through the will.
4. Where do I store my documents, and should an attorney keep a copy?
We generally recommend you purchase a fire-proof records safe for your home and store your original estate planning documents there. They will be safe, but more accessible than a bank safe deposit box. As your estate planning law firm, we keep a copy of your documents on our secure LegalVault service, which also provides you and your health care providers access to your documents.
5. Can I write my plan myself or with a LegalZoom type of service?
Of course you can, but it’s probably not a good idea. Would you skip the doctor’s office and diagnose yourself if you’re feeling sick? Estate planning is best done with an attorney who understands how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Estate planning includes wills, powers of attorneys, and trusts, but it also includes strategies while you’re alive, and strategies for the next generation. Even a “simple” plan is best done with an attorney, because as of our experiences show, even the simple plans require customizations.
6. How often should I update my plan?
Check your documents at least every three years to make sure they still seem current. We recommend that you update the plan when you see a need for a change, and update your powers of attorney every five years.
7. What are the taxes at death and how do I avoid them?
There are both federal estate and state inheritance taxes. Most people today don’t worry about federal estate taxes today, because only folks with more than $5 Million of assets are affected.
Pennsylvania has a state inheritance tax, and any asset transferred upon death in Pennsylvania is possibly subject to inheritance tax, with very few exceptions. The tax rates are relatively small (4.5% to kids and grandkids), so most of the time, planning to avoid PA inheritance taxes is not worth it. However, every case is different and we can discuss estate and inheritance tax planning strategies with you that may make sense.