There are several things you may wish to think about in planning how matters can be handled for you, in addition to your will:
Power of Attorney
As you plan the estate, always consider a power of attorney. A power of attorney is an authorization to someone you trust, who can handle your financial affairs if you become disabled, out of the area for a limited time, or simply need someone else’s help. A power of attorney can be as limited or as general as you wish.
You may also have heard about a “Living Trust”. This is a document that appoints somebody else, or another institution such as a bank, to manage your assets. You actually turn over your assets to the trustee. Sometimes these are called “inter-vivos trusts”.
There has been a lot of publicity about these living trusts, because some are selling them as a way to “avoid probate”. It may be that the stories about the time and expense of administering a probate estate are overstated as a way to sell somebody on a living trust. The cost sometimes charged to set up a living trust could be great and the benefits are really somewhat minimal.
Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is the same whether the assets are administered through a revocable living trust or if the person retains the assets in the person’s own name and distributes them according to a will. A living trust does not always guarantee reduced taxes.
The disadvantage of a living trust is that you lose control of your assets. Somebody makes all the decisions for you. After your death, beneficiaries do not have the right to the kind of notice that is required in the case of a will. An executor or personal representative under a will may actually have more flexibility than the trustee of a living trust, who is restricted by the terms of the document that creates a trust.
In Pennsylvania, we also have opportunity for an instruction to health care providers about what we may not want done in an end of life situation. It is often referred to as a “Living Will”, but it might also be referred as a “medical directive”. We can quickly provide a simple form for you, giving you the opportunity to select which medical procedures you want to be avoided.
This document can also be used to appoint somebody else to make medical decisions for you, at a time when you are not able to make those medical decisions yourself.
In Pennsylvania, the government has prepared a sample which it calls the “Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, Health Care Treatment Instructions”. This one is nine pages long. We can provide the same document for you, which is much simpler and much shorter—and equally reliable.