As a Philadelphia estate planning attorney, I am often asked, “Do I really need an estate plan?” The short answer to that question is, “Yes.” Whether simple or complex, an estate plan is comprised of a number of different documents which, taken together, provide for the distribution of your assets upon your death and serve as a valuable tool for organizing and managing important aspects of your life now, while you still live and breathe.
If you ever have watched a television legal drama, then chances are that you already know a little something about estate planning. Very likely you are familiar with the concept of a “Will.” A Will is a written document that sets out what happens to your assets (your possessions, your property) after you die; in short, it establishes who gets what. In and of itself, a Will is a basic estate plan. You may have also heard of a “Trust,” which is usually a more complicated type of document that, like a Will, provides for the distribution of property and the handling of your affairs, including family/business matters, upon your death. Your estate plan is also the place to set out clear instructions regarding the disposition of your bodily remains.
Estate planning is not all about death and dying. A good estate plan includes documents specifically designed to help you manage your affairs while you are still living. Accident, illness, dementia or other infirmity can strike at any time in life. If you were to become incapacitated and thus unable to make decisions about your own medical care/treatment or handle your own financial affairs, do you know what would happen? Who would make necessary decisions for you? Who would pay your bills and how would that be done? A well-crafted estate plan – including a power of attorney and a living will – can give you the peace of mind that these questions are answered.
The amount of money in your bank account and the value of your possessions should not be determining factors in deciding whether you need an estate plan. In fact, depending upon your circumstances, your financial situation may be the least relevant issue. Other issues may be far more important. For example:
Those are just some of the questions that are important in creating the foundation for an estate plan, and they are completely unrelated to your financial circumstances.
If you decide that you do not want or need an individualized estate plan, then any issues following your death will be resolved according to the state’s estate plan. That’s right. Whether you are aware of it or not (or like it or not) you already have an estate plan in place, ready to go. State law provides for the distribution of your assets upon death and for the care of your minor children, if any. The state also has laws in place that govern how medical and financial decisions would be made for you in the event of your incapacity. A personalized estate plan allows you to maintain control over your affairs and make your own decisions about what is right for you and your family.
If you would like to talk with an experienced Philadelphia estate planning attorney about your particular circumstances, please contact us by phone or email.