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Wills & Estate Planning

While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.  Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.

An estate plan includes several elements, including a Will, a Financial Power of Attorney, and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.  These three documents must meet certain Federal and Pennsylvania State laws.  The Law Office of Shawn Pierson knows these laws and can design wills and power of attorneys that meet them while still addressing your goals.  We will also review all beneficiary designations to ensure all are structured to maximize your wishes.  This is key to estate planning because these designations take precedence over the will.
 
Providing for Incapacity
If you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs.  Many are under the mistaken impression that their spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them in case they become incapacitated.  The truth is that in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incompetent.  This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful.  Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, they may have to come back to the court every year and show how they are spending and investing each and every penny.  If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, you must designate a person or persons that you trust in proper legal documents so that they will have the authority to withdraw money from your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and refinance your home.  A will does not take effect until you die and a power of attorney may be insufficient.
 
In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, you should establish a plan for your medical care.  The law allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself.  You can do this by using a durable power of attorney for health care where you designate the person to make such decisions.  In addition to a power of attorney for heath care, you should also have a living will which informs others of your preferred medical treatments such as the use of extraordinary measures should you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill.

Providing for Minor Children
It is important that your estate plan address issues regarding the upbringing of your children.  If your children are young, you may want to consider implementing a plan that will allow your surviving spouse to devote more attention to your children, without the burden of work obligations.  You may also want to provide for special counseling and resources for your spouse if you believe they lack the experience or ability to handle financial and legal matters.  You should also discuss with your attorney the possibility of both you and your spouse dying simultaneously, or within a short duration of time.  A contingency plan should provide for persons you’d like to manage your assets as well as the guardian you’d like to nominate for the upbringing of your children.  The person, or trustee in charge of the finances need not be the same person as the guardian.  In fact, in many situations, you may want to purposely designate different persons to maintain a system of checks and balances.  Otherwise, the decision as to who will manage your finances and raise your children will be left to a court of law.  Even if you are lucky enough to have the person or persons you would have wanted selected by the court, they may have undue burdens and restrictions placed on them by the court, such as having to provide annual accounting.
 
Other issues to consider in this respect is whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive your assets directly, or whether you’d prefer to have the assets placed in trust and distributed based a number of factors which you designate, such as age, need and even incentives based on behavior and education.  All too often, children receive substantial assets before they are mature enough to handle them properly, with devastating results.
 
You should give careful thought to your choice of guardian, ensuring that he or she shares the values you want instilled in your children. You will also want to give consideration to the age and financial condition of a potential guardian. Some guardians may lack child-rearing skills you feel are necessary.  Make sure that your plan does not create an additional financial burden for the guardian.
 
Planning for Death Taxes
When planning for death taxes, you need to be concerned about both federal estate tax and state estate taxes.  The federal estate tax is calculated as a percentage of your net estate (all of the assets you own or control minus certain deductions).  Such deductions can be for administrative expenses, such as funeral and burial costs or charitable deductions.  The federal estate tax currently taxes estates with assets of $5,000,000 or more (indexed for inflation).  However, this law is set to expire in 2013 and the exemption amount may be reduced at that time.

If you don’t think you will be effected by federal estate tax, Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax depending on the relationships between the beneficiaries and the decedent.  You should regularly review your estate plan with an attorney to ensure that it takes into account changes in the tax laws as well as shifts in your individual circumstances.

Depending on the assests in the estate, there may also be income tax implications.

There are many effective strategies that can be implemented to reduce or eliminate death taxes.  It is essential that you start the planning process early in order to realize the impact of these tax reduction strategies.
 
Charitable Bequests – Planned Giving
Do you want to benefit a charitable organization or cause?  Your estate plan can provide for such organizations in a variety of ways, either during your lifetime or at your death.  Depending on how your planned giving plan is set up, it may also let you receive a stream of income for life, earn higher investment yield, or reduce your capital gains or estate taxes.
 
A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, estate taxes and unnecessary delays.  You should consult a qualified estate planning attorney to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you.   Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family in case the worst happens.


Do you still have questions?  Check out our FAQ pages listed below, or call the office at (717) 560-4966.

Estate Planning
Estate Taxes
Planning for Incapacity
Probate


Shawn M. Pierson, Attorney of Law is based in Pennsylvania and serves clients in Lancaster, Lititz, Ephrata, Manheim, East Petersburg, New Holland and throughout Lancaster County and Lebanon County.



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105 E. Oregon Road, Lititz, PA 17543
| Phone: 717-560-4966

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