One of the elements of a will for most people focuses on specific bequests of personal property. In layperson’s terms, this is the part of a will that designates who is designated to receive specific items of personal property. For example, a person may desire a piece of jewelry to go to a specific person when he or she passes away.
There are a number of considerations to bear in mind when it comes to addressing the specific bequests of personal property. This includes a strategy that makes it easier for you to amend these types of specific bequests.
Specific Bequests: A Personal Property List
The reality is that you are likely to want to make changes regarding specific bequests of personal property from time to time. What you don’t want to have to do is change the provisions in your will each time you want to adjust personal property bequests.
In Pennsylvania, you have the ability to prepare a list of personal property bequests, referencing such a list in the will itself. By taking this course, you have the ability to amend the list of personal property bequests as necessary without adjusting the content of the last will and testament itself. You are able to forgo the expense and time associated with amending a will.
Reviewing the List on Regular Schedule
A key to addressing the issue of personal property bequests is making sure your list of these specific bequests is current. Your live evolves and changes over time. Not only are you likely to accumulate personal property items over time, your relationships with certain individuals are also subject to change.
Scheduling at least an annual review of your list of specific bequests is a wise course to take. Indeed, reviewing your entire estate plan on at least an annual basis is a recommended course of action.
Consult a Pennsylvania Estate Attorney
Making certain that your wishes are honored after you die is best ensured when you obtain professional legal assistance. A Pennsylvania estate attorney can ensure that you put in place the most suitable estate plan. This includes developing an appropriate strategy to address specific bequests of personal property. A Pennsylvania estate lawyer will schedule an initial consultation with you at no obligation and no charge.
A key decision when preparing a will is the designation of an executor. The executor is the person you select to oversee the provisions of your will after you pass. This is the person designated to make sure the directives you place in a will are carried out. Because of the importance of this position, there are a number of factors you must consider when selecting an executor for your will.
A Person You Trust
A fundamental consideration is selecting someone you trust to serve in this capacity. You need to select a person that you are confident will carry out your wishes and not act in a manner inconsistent with them.
Open Discussion with a Possible Executor
You must be up front and discuss your desire to select a particular person as your executor. A good number of people fail to take this step. By not engaging in open discussion, a person may not know of your decision to appoint him or her to serve in this capacity. This type of obligation is not something you want to surprise someone with after you die.
Review Prospect’s Background
Ultimately, whoever you nominate in a will to be your executor must be approved by the court. The court does give significant deference to the individual nominated in a will. However, there can be instances in which a court may not approve your nominee. For example, if you select someone that has a rather significant criminal history involving fraud, deceit or theft, a court may be highly reluctant to approve that individual to serve as your estate’s executor.
Family Member Versus Professional
A common strategy is to appoint a close family member to serve as the executor of an estate. That certainly is one of your options – but it is not the only course you can take.
An attorney can be designated as your executor. Designated a legal professional to serve in this capacity can be a wise course if an estate is particularly complex. Legal assistance will be needed anyway; thus, designated an attorney as the executor makes sense in such a situation.
If for some reason the person you designate as executor is not able to serve in this role, you need to designate a backup in your will. By designating a successor executor, you place yourself in the best position to ensure your interests will be protected after you pass away.
If you have children, and are at the beginning of your life in the proverbial “adult world,” you may have begun to give thought to estate planning. In that regard, you may be considering having a last will and testament prepared. There are a number of points to bear in mind when you have children and are considering having a last will and testament made.
Financial Considerations of a Last Will and Testament
In any situation, including when a person has minor children, financial considerations represent the primary thrust of a last will and testament. The focus in your case would be on making sure that your children have the financial provisions necessary to live appropriately. As part of this endeavor, specific provisions need to be included within the will that address who will oversee and manage the financial arrangements made for the children in the last will and testament. This typically includes the appointment of what is known as a conservator.
Guardianship for Your Children
Another key element of a last will and testament when you have children is a provision for who will take care of them when you pass away. The last will and testament proposes a guardian or guardians for your children. Oftentimes, this is a close family member, or close family members.
The court needs to take additional action to formally designate who you select in your will as guardians for your children. However, by making the designation in your last will and testament, you better ensure that your wishes regarding your children are carried out when you are gone.
College and Your Children
Most parents desire for their children to obtain a higher education. You may be among them. If that is the case, you will want to include a provision in a last will and testament that addresses funding for college.
Because of the unique complications associate with a last will and testament when you have minor child, retaining a qualified estate attorney is highly recommended. An estate lawyer will be able to evaluate your unique circumstances, and those of your children. Armed with that information, an estate attorney is able to draft the ideal last will and testament to meet your needs, goals and objectives.
Estate planning is not only for older, wealthier individuals. Rather, financial experts and estate lawyers make it clear that it really is never too early to start the estate planning process. There are some key factors to keep in mind when it comes to estate planning for people under the age of 35.
Focus on the Essentials
When it comes to estate planning for people under 35, the basics – the essentials – typically are most important. Of course, there are instances in which a younger person accumulates a more significant amount of assets at an early age in life. However, that is the exception and not the rule. In those less common cases, a person will need a more complex estate plan.
The most common elements of an estate plan for people under the age of 35 include a will, a living will (or durable power of attorney for healthcare), and a financial durable power of attorney. In addition, at this juncture in life, a person needs to take a close look at obtaining appropriate life insurance. This particularly is the case if a person is married, in a committed relationship or has children.
Estate Planning for Today – Not some Future Date
When embarking on estate planning under the age of 35, a person oftentimes has a mindset based on some future date. This is not solid thinking. Rather, even when a younger person embarks on estate planning, he or she cannot think about some time down the road.
Estate planning, even for a younger person, needs to have a focus on the here and now. What that really means is that a person needs to develop a comprehensive, appropriate estate plan based on the possibility (no matter how remote) of passing away in the more immediate future.
With that objective noted, the need to regularly review an estate plan is imperative. Once a younger person has established a meaningful estate plan, he or she should review it at least annually.
Seek Professional Guidance
A person under the age of 35 need not go it alone when it comes to estate planning. Indeed, that is not advisable at all. A younger individual in need of an estate plan should retain the services of a skilled estate attorney.
The prospect of dying while a parent has minor children in the home is a grim thought. Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence. Nonetheless, it can happen – a parent with minor children can end up dying. Indeed, there are instances in which both parents tragically die in the untimely event, underscore the need to consider wills and child custody.
With this reality understood, parents need to make certain that their estate plans include a last will and testament that includes provisions for their children. Such provisions need to include the possibility that both parents pass and are not available to care for the children.
Wills and Child Custody: Financial Considerations
A key element of a last will and testament for parents with minor children involves ensuring that the minors properly are cared for financially. This typically includes the appointment of a person to serve as a guardian and conservator for the children – the establishment of a conservatorship being the vehicle through which the financial affairs of the children are managed.
Wills and Child Custody: Care of the Children
Parents of minor children should not presume that a certain person (or persons) will be able to take responsibility for the care of their children in the event of their deaths. Yes, it is possible that a close family member (like a child’s grandparent) will become the guardian of a child, other possibilities theoretically exist.
The best course to take to ensure that a suitable person (or persons) becomes the guardian of minor children if both parents are deceased is to designate such an individual (or individuals) in the wills of both parents. By making a will that includes this type of directive, parents can rest easier knowing that their children will be in good hands should the need ever arise for this type of guardianship.
Keep an Estate Plan Up to Date
Parents of minor children should make it a point to review their estate plans annually. This should be done with an eye to ensuring wills and child custody provisions remain appropriate and in accordance with the parents’ wishes and the prospective needs of their children. Circumstances may warrant a review more frequently than once a year. In any event, parents must be proactive in this regard.
A key component of estate planning for many individuals is the writing of a last will and testament. There are specific protocols that must be followed in order to execute a will in a proper manner.
State Law Governs Wills
The laws of each individual state governs the manner in which a last will and testament is to be executed or signed. With that said, there are some general will execution protocols that are followed across the United States, including in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Sound Mind and Body
A person intent on signing a will must be of sound mind and body. What this means is that an individual signing a will must be in a proper physical and mental condition. In addition, in Pennsylvania, a person must be at least 18-years old to execute will.
A basic test exists to ascertain if a person truly is of sound mind and body, fit to sign a will. The person seeking to execute a will must understand that signing the will is in fact the task at hand. The person must also have a general understanding of the nature and extent of his or her assets, the property that is subject to the will. The individual signing a will must understand how his or her assets are being distributed or allocated pursuant to the terms of the instrument.
As an aside, a person must be sober at the time of the signing of a will. The individual cannot be under the influence of any mind-altering substance.
A will must be executed in front of a notary public, or a similar type of official. For example, a will can be signed in front of a judge in most jurisdictions. The notary public authenticates the person signing the will did so in a manner consistent with the laws of Pennsylvania.
The one area in which there is some more significant variation from one state to another is in regard to the witnesses necessary for a will signing. The witnesses must be adults and physically and mentally competent at the time of the will signing. Other types of will contests can happen as well. A last will and testament in Pennsylvania must be witnessed by two individuals.
ConclusionThe failure to satisfy the requirements associated with executing a will can open the door to challenges to its validity. A common objection to a will is that a person was not mentally competent at the time the instrument was executed. A determination of invalidity renders the will useless to convey property after someone’s death.
When many people hear the phrase “estate planning,” they presume that it doesn’t apply to them. These individuals quickly conclude that they lack the assets necessary to warrant estate planning. In fact, estate planning is for everyone who has a desire to leave things to loved ones when they pass.
Estate Planning: It’s Not Just About Dollars and Cents
Even individuals with a minimal amount of assets will likely have some idea where they want this property to go when they die. In some cases, a person will confide in someone they trust, telling that confident what they want done with property when that person passes away.
In the final analysis, telling someone else what a person wants to see happen with property upon that individual’s death just doesn’t cut it. The confident is under absolutely no legal obligation to carry out these wishes. Although there may be a moral or ethical obligation, that simply is not enough to ensure the appropriate distribution of assets at the time of death.
In other words, a person cannot simply say “I don’t have much, and I’m sure so-and-so will follow my wishes.” A person in such a position must take formal steps to ensure property goes where desired upon death.
Estate Planning from a Legal Professional
Although a person with significant assets may require a complicated estate plan, someone of modest means does not. There are some straightforward – and affordable – options available to a person who is most interested in ensuring that prized possessions end up in the hands of the intended individual. In many cases, when taxes are not a prime consideration, this objective can be accomplished through a last will and testament.
An estate lawyer can schedule an initial consultation to discuss the specific options available to a person with a more modest amount of property. There typically is no fee charged by an estate attorney for this type of meeting.
Through an initial consultation, an estate lawyer will also lay out what the creation of a last will and testament is going to cost. Typically, an individual who desires to make sure his or her wishes are met after their passing finds the cost associated with the proper preparation of a will to be a most reasonable investment – an affordable option. In the end … estate planning really is for everyone.
No one did it like Sinatra – a legend in every way, Frank Sinatra’s personality was one of a kind. That personality lives on through his will, and some may find its contents provide an interesting point of view on family, money, and priorities. Frank Sinatra’s will contains a unique condition that has his heirs scratching their heads.
The family members included in the will are his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, and his three children – Frank Jr., Nancy and Tina. Knowing the scope of the animosity among the children, Frank included a no-contest clause to prevent will contests from his family. Anyone who contests the will is automatically disinherited. This no-contest clause will strongly discourage if not prevent a will contest from any heirs whatsoever.
If an heir wants to contest the will, he or she must be extremely confident with their position; otherwise, he or she will receive nothing. A particular point of contention has to do with who can merchandise Frank’s name. Because royalties continue to bring in a significant amount of money, the will determines who is going to manage those products. It is reported that the children are in control of the music library and much of the products that produce royalties.
Should the children find themselves unhappy with the arrangement, Frank has made sure that they will have little room to push the issue. Often, families find themselves in deeply emotional and exhaustive will contest cases due to a poorly crafted will or when a family member dies intestate. This clause is an interesting method of maintaining control over how an estate is handled and nurturing the best interests of familial relationships. We commend Frank on keeping his family at the forefront of his wishes and thinking ahead.
Whether you do not yet have a will or need to update heirs, our experienced Bucks County estate lawyers provide information and options. Call (215) 486-8171 to schedule your consultation.
1. Yes, you should have an attorney.
We might be biased on this one, but families agree that having an experienced Bucks County Estate planning attorney by their side makes the process easier and much more thorough. If you or a loved one is considering hiring an estate planning attorney, interviewing and reviewing the credentials of several local attorneys will help begin a working relationship. Maintaining a relationship with your estate planning lawyer is important for not just the creation of the estate, but the maintenance and administration phase with heirs or beneficiaries. Ensuring the experience and rapport are there make the process much more productive. (more…)