Start the New Year by Making or Updating Your Estate Plan
By Jennifer Simons, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
If you are like most people who make New Year’s resolutions, you often end up not following through with these good intentions. Preparing an Estate Plan (which typically includes a Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will) is something that many individuals know that they should do, but for various reasons put off doing until it is sometimes too late. Planning for your eventual passing, or possible incapacity, is not a pleasant task, but one that is necessary to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Now is an excellent time to get a jump start on that New Year’s resolution to make your Estate Plan or to update your current Estate Plan. It is the ideal time to reflect back on the past year and note any significant changes that have taken place, such as births, weddings, divorces, etc. If you have experienced any major life changes such as these, it may be prudent to review your current Estate Plan to make sure that it reflects these changes.
One of the most important estate planning documents to prepare is a Will. By executing a Will, you are stating how you wish your estate to be distributed upon your death. It is especially important not only to express whom you wish to receive a share of your estate, but also to prevent your estate, or a share of your estate, from going to an individual whom you do not wish to receive a share. If an individual passes without executing a Will, his/her estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of Pennsylvania. Therefore, if you die without a Will, your estate, or part of your estate, may go to a family member regardless of whether you intended that person to receive a share or not.
Another essential estate planning document is a Durable Power of Attorney. By executing a Power of Attorney, you are granting to another individual the power to make financial or medical (or both) decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to do so for yourself. A Durable Power of Attorney remains in effect even after a person becomes incapacitated. This is especially important because if an individual becomes incapacitated without executing a Power of Attorney, it is likely that guardianship proceedings will need to be instituted in order to appoint a guardian to make financial or medical decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person. The guardianship process, which requires petitioning the court, is a more complex and expensive process compared to executing a Power of Attorney. A guardianship hearing could result in a decision contrary to what the individual would have wanted and in a guardian being appointed whom the incapacitated individual would not have chosen him/herself.
Lastly, it is also important to prepare a Living Will, commonly called an Advance Medical Directive. This document allows an individual to indicate his/her preferences in advance regarding the initiation, continuation, withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment should they later become incompetent to make these decisions. This document only becomes effective when an individual is incompetent, and in 1) a state of permanent unconsciousness or 2) an end-stage medical condition. Similar to a Power of Attorney, if you do not have a Living Will indicating your preferred treatment should you be incompetent to express your wishes, then another person will be designated (according to the relationship between the individual and the appointed healthcare agent, and according to the Pennsylvania Healthcare Statute) to make end-of life decisions on your behalf. Preparing a Living Will before you become incompetent will help to ensure that the healthcare agent making end-of-life decisions on your behalf is the person that you have chosen.
Begin preparing for the New Year now, and stop procrastinating when it comes to preparing an Estate Plan that will ensure that your wishes are carried out. McAndrews Law Offices can help in preparing a comprehensive Estate Plan. If you wish to speak with one of our Estate Planning attorneys, please call our office at 610-648-9300.