Wills, Trusts, Estates, Powers of Attorney

Attorney MaryBeth McCabe represents clients needing help with wills, trusts and estates.

Estate Law deals with the transfer of assets from one person, after death, to another. Death is not a subject most people want to think about. However, if you want to ensure that your intentions are carried out, prevent disputes, ease decision making for your survivors and minimize taxes, you need to make an Estate Plan.

Estate Planning involves the use of Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and other documents to carry out your wishes. Estate Administration is the process, after a death, of implementing the Will, Trusts or other planning tools, paying taxes and distributing the assets to the beneficiary.

Estate Planning

All of us will leave behind some type of Estate — a home, bank accounts or other property. Estate Planning allows you to choose how your property will be distributed after your death, make arrangements for special situations and minimize estate and inheritance taxes. Documents commonly used for Estate planning are Wills, Trusts and Powers of Attorney.

In addition to planning for events after your death, it may be as important to plan for end-of-life issues. People are living longer, so the possibility that you may not be able to handle your financial affairs due to aging, failing health or an accident, has increased. A Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney can be used to plan for this possibility.

Wills and Trusts

A Will is a written document in which you make instructions on the manner of distribution of your property. It should appoint a person, an Executor, to carry out your wishes and administer your Estate. A Will can also appoint a person, a Guardian, to care for any minor children. Should you not have a Will at the time of your death, Pennsylvania Law controls who will inherit your property and it may not be who you want.

A Trust is a written document that creates a separate entity, the Trust, which is used to own and manage property that you transfer to it. There are many types of trusts and they are used for many different purposes. A commonly known type is the Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable trust does not legally avoid Inheritance or Estate Taxes. It can be used to distribute property after death without the probate process. In Pennsylvania, probate is not a long or costly process as discussed in the Estate Administration section below.

A Durable Power of Attorney is used to appoint a person, an Agent, to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself. This document remains valid even if you become mentally or physically incompetent at some time in the future. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is used to appoint an Agent to make decisions concerning medical care if you are unable to do so yourself. An Advance Directive for Healthcare, known as a Living Will, also appoints an Agent to make end of life decisions as to your medical care.

Estate Administration

After an individual dies, the property he leaves becomes his Estate. This property will either be distributed by Will or, if there is no Will, by State and Federal Law. An individual, whether an Executor appointed by the Will or an Administrator appointed by the Court, is in charge of securing all the property, paying the debts and taxes and then distributing the property according to the instructions in the Will or according to State Law.

This process is known as Probate. In Pennsylvania, it starts when the Executor (or Administrator if there is no Will) presents the Will (or legal right) at the Courthouse and receives written authority to administer the Estate. Unless there is a dispute over the validity of the Will or the distribution to the beneficiaries, the Court is not involved in the Probate procedure. There are many legal obligations for an Estate and it is highly recommended that an Attorney be consulted to help ensure that all obligations are met to protect the Executor/Administrator.