It is very easy with everything that is going on in our country and our world right now, to be concerned about the pandemic and start to think about your own mortality and planning. While we recommend planning at all times to always be prepared ahead of time, this certainly provides a reminder for us to stop and take a look at our current situation to make sure that we have at least our basics in place. Powers of AttorneyEach person should have a financial power of attorney that authorizes another individual to make financial decisions on their behalf in case they cannot. They could be unable to because of an illness or an incapacitation or simply just not in town, or maybe they are traveling out of the country. We cannot stress the importance of having a financial power of attorney in place to avoid the necessity for guardianship. We have discussed in detail in other blogs and articles about powers of attorney and guardianships, and we would encourage you to please take a further look at those, and why it would become important to have a financial power of attorney in place.A medical power of attorney is an essential document that authorizes another individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not capable or able to make those medical decisions for yourself. Although there is a healthcare statute in the state of Pennsylvania that will name the next of kin to be able to make those healthcare decisions in case you cannot, we stress the importance enough of having this document in place to ensure that the people that you want making those decisions can make them without unintended people being named as well. When you reach the end-of-life stage it's also important that you have in place a living will. If the living will is coupled in one single document with a medical power of attorney, that is also considered an advanced healthcare directive. We recommend having these documents in place to ease the burden on your family. This will save them from having to make those end-of-life decisions if two qualified physicians put in writing that there is no realistic hope of recovery that you will always remain end-stage medical or vegetative, comatose, permanently unconscious, or terminally ill. There is certainly a lot that goes into the medical definition, but plainly stated, it is imperative to decide for yourself how you would like those decisions to be made rather than to put the burden on a loved one to feel like they have to play God or pull the plug on their family member. Review Your Current Documents, Including Beneficiaries, to Ensure They Meet Your Needs and Desires We encourage anyone who has planning in place to not assume that it is up to date or that it is what their current wishes are, things change over time. It is also important to review all of your beneficiary designations on accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, etc. Often, the most overlooked item is reviewing the beneficiary designations of an account, and it is probably the most critical thing that can screw up an estate plan. Please make it a priority to review your documents to make sure they accurately reflect your wishes. If you have questions or need to make some changes we would be more than happy to see you at one of our workshops to discuss the different documents and how they can assist you and your family. We certainly understand if there is any anxiety or stress that you are experiencing but encourage you to be prepared no matter what, which will give you a sense of comfort and security. If you would like further information about this topic or to learn more about our firm, please visit us at www.bellomoassociates.com or call the office at 717-845-5390.
There is definitely a false belief that estate planning and elder law are only for individuals who are elderly and who have amassed a ton of wealth. Certainly, individuals in that category absolutely need to plan, but that does not mean that younger individuals should not also put a plan in place ahead of time.When an individual reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they are presumed to be able to make decisions for themselves and not need the assistance of anyone at that point. Oftentimes, young adults don't realize that once they turn 18, getting a financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and Last Will and Testament can be absolutely necessary.Many of our clients are college students, going away without mom or dad for the first time, and somewhere within the first couple of years, they either end up at the hospital or they end up asking mom and dad to call the school to ask questions about billing or something else. To their surprise, their parents are no longer able to just make decisions because they are over 18 and are expected to be adults.We recommend that all college students going off to school enter into a power of attorney providing the authority for the parents to be able to make their healthcare and financial decisions if need be. If nothing else, allowing the parents to be able to call the school or other institutions and ask questions. This is often overlooked by many parents and can cause a lot of heartbreak and stress if their child is injured or in need of assistance.Although most college students and young individuals have not amassed a ton of wealth, having the document in place specifying who is going to receive the assets and who will be the individual responsible for carrying out those wishes (executor) can often save lots of heartbreak. Yes, it is true that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a statute called intestate succession which does provide what would happen to assets if an individual dies, but oftentimes it is not what a person would want.The intestate succession rules are archaic and old and do not necessarily follow the wishes of a current situation. For example, we recently had a problem where the parents who are estranged had to administer the estate of their daughter who passed away. The emotional toll that it took on the parents and the family for them having to put up with each other was undoubtedly probably not what the daughter wanted and had she had her wishes in place it would have eliminated not only the heartache of losing a child but them having to fight and remind each other every day of why they were divorced in the first place.We also recommend that young adults have documents that are properly put in place (so that others can get access to digital assets). Digital assets often include photos and videos, electronic media, stored data, apps, etc. Young adults are typically ones who have proportionately more of these than others, and if the power of attorney or the Last Will and Testament does not provide for that, it can cause lots of time delays and issues.Hopefully, this article was able to express the need for individuals to have planning in place, particularly young adults who often don't think that it is necessary. If you would like further information or would like to learn more about the content in this blog, please contact our office at (717) 845-5390
I often find in my estate planning and elder law practice that every child or family member wants to be named as an executor in their loved one's documents.However, I often find that nobody actually knows what that means and has absolutely no idea how much work it entails. I think people believe it is a rite of passage or an honor to be named, which it can be, but it also comes with a lot of work and some significant responsibility.The person who is named as the executor in a Last Will and Testament is a fiduciary and is held to a higher standard than an ordinary individual or beneficiary. If the executor does not carry out his or her duties and obligations appropriately, if the appropriate taxes are not paid or if the beneficiarys interests are not protected like they were supposed to be the executor can be held personally liable in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.Furthermore, it is imperative that the person who is being named as the executor is a very organized individual, who can handle balancing and managing a checkbook and also multi-tasking. The relationship of a person to another individual does not make them the right choice or the right candidate for the position.If you are named, my recommendation would be to start understanding now what that entails, and what you will be asked to do. If you are not comfortable serving, I would advise that you let the person know so that they can make alternate or contingent plans in their estate planning.If you find yourself named as an executor, I would highly recommend that you seek advice from an attorney who has lots of experience in this area. Oftentimes, people are lulled into thinking that acting as the executor and opening the estate is a very simple process and that an attorney is not needed.While I agree that the original meeting at the courthouse and getting the grant of Letters Testamentary are not difficult things, that is merely the first step, from that point forward there is a myriad of requirements of notices to not only beneficiaries and heirs but also creditors. There is a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return required to be filed as well as potentially a fiduciary income tax return. Being named is only the first step, and that is by far the easiest.Since an executor is a fiduciary and is held to a higher standard and can be held personally liable to creditors and to other beneficiaries, I highly recommend seeking the advice of counsel. Not any counsel, but counsel who is familiar with the inner workings of the estate administration process in Pennsylvania, including but not limited to, the priority statutes, understanding who gets paid first, second, third, etc., which can undoubtedly cause issues if the estate does not have a lot of money or happens to be an insolvent estate.While it can be an honor to be named as an executor, we urge you and encourage you to understand all the expectations that come with it and what you can do ahead of time to be prepared. If you find yourself named, plan to seek the counsel of a qualified individual to walk you through the process so that you do not have to worry about any potential liability or any potential pitfalls of which you may be unaware.If you would like to learn more about being an executor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, please give our office a call at 717-208-4546 or come to one of our upcoming workshops to learn more.