The answer is very simple, if you have a heart problem, you would go to a cardiologist, and not your general doctor. The same holds true in the context of estate planning. Estate Planning is a specialty within the practice of law, and takes into consideration multiple factors when preparing documentation. I realize everyone thinks their situation is simple, but after almost two decades of practice, I can assure you that no family is simple! We are charged with being experts on the tax laws, and making sure we optimize all tax strategies to assist our clients, as well as making sure each family has planning that reflects their unique family dynamics.
The most heartbreaking thing that I see in my practice is families fighting because people did not clearly spell out their wishes.It leaves too much to interpretation, especially when things have not been perfect with family dynamics, which they rarely are. I also see families having to sell businesses and cherished vacation homes to pay taxes because of poor or no planning, which could have been very easily avoided.
Yes! No one wants to work hard their entire lives and then lose all their assets to a Medicaid Spenddown situation. Make sure your assets are tax, creditor, and Medicaid protected, so upon your death, the people you love receive your assets.
Everyone, even if you think you own everything jointly with your spouse. You Don't. You cannot own IRA's, 401k's, pensions, most annuities, life insurance contracts, etc. jointly. If you become disabled, accounts get frozen and we have to go to court for guardianship. Very expensive, very inconvenient.
Everyone due to HIPPA privacy laws. Even your spouse cannot legally speak for you if you are unconscious without this document. You should be getting these for your children once they are 18 and go off to college. They are adults in the eyes of the law, and a doctor that does not know you, or a University, will NOT speak to you about their medical issues.
In Pennsylvania if a husband or wife dies without a Will, all assets DO NOT automatically pass to the surviving spouse. The Pennsylvania Intestacy Laws have very specific rules as to who gets assets if you die without a Will, and often the results are not what you think, or what you want. Your loved ones receive money by leaving your assets in a trust for at least some period of time. If monies are left in trust, it can be protected from divorce, creditors, lawsuits, and bankruptcy at the same time. Remember, we never know who our kids are going to marry!
If you own a house, a bank account, a car, etc. that IS your estate, regardless of how much it is worth. Your estate is simply what you own.
Estate Taxes and Family circumstances are huge factors in why it is necessary to have a Will. If you have an estate tax issue, you must make sure to take advantage of all credits and exemptions available to you by law. The Federal Estate Tax is a 40% rate, the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax begins at 4.5% and goes up from there. You need to make sure you know what the liabilities are, and plan in the most tax efficient way possible.
You will need to name the Guardians in your will in the event something happens to you, even if you are divorced. This is who they would physically live with.
If you die without a will, everything does not automatically go to your spouse. Your spouse gets the first $30,000.00, and splits the rest of your estate 50/50 with your children. Your children would get all their money at the age of 18. There are many scenarios if you are not married or if you do not have kids. The Commonwealth of PA has a will for you that will direct how your property gets distributed if you do not do it yourself. If you have a minor child, or a Dependant with special needs you must have a Last Will and Testament to name appropriate Guardians and Trustees. If not, the Court, and potentially Family Services will get involved and make those decisions for your children. This can cause families to fight amongst themselves and great emotional harm to the children.
Once a child reaches the age of eighteen (18) years, they cannot have more than $2,000.00 in their own name and be eligible for various government/state/public benefits including SSI, Waivers, Medical Assistance, etc. Monies received from SSI are minimal monthly, currently the maximum amount is $771.00 per month in Pennsylvania. A Special Needs Trust allows us to leave our loved ones assets to enhance their quality of life of life both now and in the future, WITHOUT jeopardizing any governmental or public benefits or resources they may be receiving.