Estate Planning: Wills, Trusts, and Power of Attorney
Who Needs an Estate Plan?
Does the term “estate planning” sound like it doesn’t apply to you – like it’s just for the wealthy? In reality, everyone should have an estate plan. Even if you don’t own much, a proper estate plan can prevent a great deal of hassle for your loved ones down the road. And if you own a house, or other property, you want to make sure it goes to the right people. Creating your will, a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney is important for everyone to do.
Estate Planning is My Specialty
Many attorneys treat Estate Planning as a quick side job – a way to get their foot in the door for other services. These lawyers take your info, punch it into their form-filler, and have you sign the documents. You might come out with a legal will, but is it actually doing what you want? Have you actually created an Estate Plan, or are there going to be arguments about inheritances, and what to do when you are in the hospital?
I am an Estate Planning attorney, first and foremost. I have seen the damage that can be caused by an inadequate Estate Plan, even when there was a will and power of attorney in place, and my goal is to do everything I can to prevent that. I believe that creating your Estate Plan is one of the most important things you can do, and I give it the time and respect it deserves.
Estate Planning isn’t just about document drafting and legal consequences. It’s about taking care of yourself and your loved ones, even when you are no longer there. Yes, this includes making sure the right people receive an inheritance from you, but it also means preserving relationships and preventing family conflict. Creating your legal documents is the first step, but taking care of your family requires more than that.
I live and work in Telford, in Montgomery County, across the street from Bucks County, and just a few minutes away from Lehigh County. I serve clients in Souderton, Perkasie, Sellersville, Hatfield, Lansdale, Quakertown, Montgomeryville, and more. Because I primarily meet with clients through video-calls, I also work with clients across Pennsylvania to meet their estate planning needs.
When Should You Create an Estate Plan?
If you are reading this, then its probably time to create your estate plan. you never know when your going to pass, and so you can’t know when you need your documents in place. A good rule of thumb is that major life events let you know when you need to create, review, or update your estate plan.
Your Estate Planning Goals
When you begin the process, you need to determine what your goals are. A good Estate Planning attorney works with you to define your goals first, before they start giving you recommendations. The following is a list of common goals:
- Making sure your family is taken care of, financially and otherwise.
- Ensuring someone can step in to pay your bills if you aren’t able to yourself.
- Guaranteeing that you receive the medical treatment you actually want.
- Preventing a drawn-out probate process for your loved ones.
- Minimizing your estate’s tax burden.
- Placing your pets in a loving home with someone who cares about them the way you do.
- Preparing your children to receive an inheritance responsibly.
Every individual has their own goals, and an estate planning lawyer should be helping you determine yours.
What’s In an Estate Plan?
Every Estate Plan, no matter who it’s for, should have three main documents:
Your will accomplishes a few things. Of course, everyone knows that a will determines who receives an inheritance when you pass. (Only probate property passes according to your will, though.) It is also where you nominate your executor, who will handle the estate and deal with the court process when you pass. If you have any minor children, you can nominate guardians for them in your will, and provide guidance for those guardians. And having a will means that your family won’t have to deal with “intestacy,” which makes the whole process more complicated and time-consuming.
Durable Power of Attorney
Technically, this is called a Financial Power of Attorney, and it can be either “springing” or “durable.” The purpose of the durable power of attorney is to appoint someone else who can step in and pay your bills and other financial obligations if you are unable to do so. If you are in the hospital, or for some other reason are unable to handle your own finances, your “agent” is able to access your finances and make sure you aren’t incurring late fees or other penalties. If you don’t have a financial power of attorney in place, your loved ones may have to go through the lengthy and complicated guardianship process in order be able to take care of your finances.
Healthcare Power of Attorney / Living Will
Technically two documents in one, the healthcare power of attorney, also known as a medical power of attorney, appoints someone who can speak to your doctors and make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. Everyone knows the medical system in the United States is complicated – you want to make sure there is someone you trust who can navigate it and get you the care you need.
The Living Will, or Advance Healthcare Directive, allows you to make your own choices about what medical treatment you would like at the end of life. Making these decisions ahead of time, and making them binding on your agent, ensures you get the care you want, and it takes the burden off your family to make the difficult choice of when to stop providing treatment.
There are many other documents that may be included in your estate plan, including revocable trusts (also known as living trusts), irrevocable trusts, agreements of sale, and more. Each situation is different, and an estate planning attorney should be be collecting all your info to know exactly what documents are necessary to achieve your goals.
My Estate Planning Process
My process is designed to be as simple and efficient as possible, while also ensuring that you understand everything in your Estate Plan. Typically, all meetings – other than the document execution – take place either over the phone or by video-call, which means you never have to leave the comfort of your home. However, I am always happy to meet in person if necessary or preferred.
- My process begins with a free, 1-hour, no-obligation phone consultation. In this consultation I ask questions about what assets you own, and who are the important people in your life. By gathering this info, I can tell you what should be in your customized estate plan, and why.
- I also provide a flat-fee quote for you, so you know exactly what it costs to create your estate plan. There are never any hidden fees or extra charges – you can reach out to me as often as you like, you can schedule extra meetings, and I continue to work on your Estate Plan until you are completely satisfied with it.
- If you choose to move forward, I start gathering some preliminary information from you with a fillable form. This lets me better direct our conversation so I don’t take up more of your time than necessary.
- Our first meeting is the Design Meeting. In this meeting we go over the information you provided, and I work with you to craft the outline of your Estate Plan. By the end of the meeting I have all the information I need to begin putting together your documents.
- Once everything is drafted, we have a Document Review meeting, where we go over your documents page-by-page. When you are working with an estate planning attorney, you should never walk away not sure what it is you actually signed.
- Once ready, I send you a draft copy of all your documents for your review, to make sure nothing was missed, and allow you the time to make sure you are satisfied with everything.
- Finally, we meet in person to execute your documents. After signing, I create digital copies of all your documents, and you receive the original copies as well as a link to download the digital copies. I keep a copy of all the documents I create for my clients, so there’s always a backup just in case.
How Long Does Estate Planning Take?
While it might seem like a lot of things to get through, I can have your documents executed and in hand within two weeks if you are motivated to get through the process quickly. I am always working to make the process more efficient and painless while still ensuring a comprehensive plan. It is important for you to have your Will and your Powers of Attorney in place quickly, because you can’t predict when you need them.