While many lawyers might prefer to complexify or mystify the topic of estate planning, waving their hands about the nuances of trusts and the costs of probate, the truth is not nearly so complicated.
Most residents of Elizabethtown or Gettysburg, or for that matter Pennsylvania and the US as a whole, will never need complex trusts or asset shielding. All you need are the right documents, properly prepared, to make sure your wealth and possessions pass on to those you care about – without disappearing into the wrong hands.
What Are The Most Essential Estate Planning Documents In Pennsylvania?
While some estate planning attorneys will try to convince you that you need reams of carefully-elaborated documents, the truth is that the list of necessary estate planning tools is quite short.
➢ Last Will And Testament
Often commonly referred to simply as a Will, the Last Will and Testament is a core estate planning document that determines how your belongings are distributed after you pass on by clearly explaining how your wealth and assets will be allocated to the beneficiaries you choose to name.
By clarifying who gets what after your death, your Will cements your legacy and ensures that what happens to your possessions is exactly as you wish it. However, that does not just mean any old piece of paper will do.
A Will may be relatively simple, but it must be well-constructed and clearly worded, to avoid problems down the line for your family. The last thing you want is for your legacy to be tainted by conflict, which is why working with a reliable and honest estate planning attorney to craft this document is essential.
➢ Power Of Attorney
While we often think of life and death as entirely black and white, there are many gray areas that can befall a person in between. Serious accidents or debilitating illnesses can leave you paralyzed, comatose, or vegetative – and in those cases, it is vitally important that someone can legally enact both your financial and healthcare wishes. That is done by appointing your Powers of Attorney.
Both Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney designations serve to entrust your wishes to someone you know will carry them out as you would, and gives them the legally recognized ability to do so. This means that you don’t have to worry about what might happen to you and your estate if tragedy strikes, your advocate will be clearly laid out and legally supported, ready to take the steps needed to get you through it.
➢ Advance Healthcare Directive
Ensuring that your finances are in safe hands is one thing, securing your very body and personal wellbeing is another. In Pennsylvania, this is done with an Advance Healthcare Directive.
This document allows you to clearly explain your wishes for end-of-life care, DNR orders, life support, and more. This takes the pressure off of those you love to make impossible decisions about your healthcare. Instead, it protects both you and your family by providing a roadmap of support and care through some of life’s most difficult journeys.
Is That It? Don’t I Need Any Other Estate Planning Documents Or Services?
While there are certainly other estate planning tools you can utilize (including some niche ones like Digital Power of Attorney to give someone the rights to your online accounts!), and there are other documents to verify like your insurance or bank account beneficiaries, the three documents we discussed above are the core of your estate planning needs.
However, just because they are few, relatively simple, and straightforward, does not mean you can afford to not plan them properly. A poorly written or unverified document can sometimes cause even more harm than none at all, so you should always run them by an experienced and specialized Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorney first.
Better yet, by working with a planning attorney from the beginning, you can take the guesswork out of the process, and have an experienced professional help create an estate plan that is specifically tailored to your goals and concerns for the future.
At What Age Should I Start Completing Estate Planning Documents?
The short answer is that it is never too early to think about estate planning. Accidents happen, and they could be all the more traumatic for you, or your family if you do not have some of these estate planning essentials put in place.
While you might not need a Will until you have enough assets to care about their passing, a Power of Attorney or Advance Healthcare Directive could be essential in the case of an accident or injury – no matter your age.
Besides, once you have worked these issues out with an Estate Planning attorney, they will be out of the way and you can go on living your life, with one less thing to worry about.
Though do remember to go back to your attorney at least once every five years for a review – and especially any time you have a major life change that will alter what your wishes are for serious medical care, who you want to inherit your estate, or who you trust to make decisions for you in an emergency.