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When or why you should review your Will

Creating Wills and other estate planning documents may feel a bit onerous for many people in Pennsylvania. Once an estate plan is in place, however, many people feel very good about having prepared a plan and then assume that they do not have to think about these matters again. However, the reality is that an estate plan should be considered a living set of documents. Knowing when and why to review Wills and other estate planning documents is important.

The grounds on which Wills can be contested

Why might Pennsylvania residents contest a Will? When a loved one passes away, whether the death was sudden or the result of a long illness, there may be a strain on the family. The review of the decedent's Will may add another layer to the emotional turmoil if family members are surprised by its contents or do not agree with it. Is that surprise or lack of agreement about the terms enough to contest the Will?

What happens if someone dies without a will?

When Pennsylvania residents die without wills identifying their beneficiaries and the division of their assets, their property is going to pass through intestate succession to their heirs according to state law. What this means is that if people fail to make wills and pass away, state law will determine how their assets will be distributed. It is important to note that the way state law distributes the wealth may not be the way the decedent would want it distributed.

Estate Planning and Pets

When doing estate planning and preparing your Will, you may want to consider your pet.  Who will take care of your pet after you pass away?  Pets are often an important part of the family, or may even be your only family.  If you have no family members or friends who love your cat or dog or other animal the way that you do, you may want to put a "Pet Trust" in your Last Will and Testament or a specific bequest to a "no-kill" shelter.    

How Does Certain Property Pass After Death?

Last Wills and Testaments pass property to heirs after the death of the Testators, the people who signed them. However, there are other ways to pass property outside of Last Wills and Testaments, such as jointly-titled property, payable on death accounts and beneficiary designations.  It is a good idea to review your assets with an elder law attorney to determine which property is controlled by your Last Will and Testament and which property passes in other ways. 

Pennsylvania Inheritance Taxes for Siblings and Others

Last Wills and Testaments may leave property to siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins or even non-family members.  These inheritances are subject to Pennsylvania inheritance taxes.  Siblings pay a 12% inheritance tax while nieces, nephews, cousins or non-family members pay a 15% inheritance tax. Depending on the type of assets, there may be other tax implications as well.  Planning for this type of inheritance with an elder alw attorney to help reduce these taxes can be important.   

Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

Whether assets are inherited under Wills or by intestacy (without Wills), when someone passes away in Pennsylvania, there may be inheritance taxes due to the Commonwealth. The amount, if any, that is due depends on the value of the decedent's assets on the date of death as well as who receives the assets.  There are four basic rates:  0% between spouses, 4.5% for lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, parents, etc.); 12% for siblings (brothers or sisters) and 15% for anyone else.   

When must an Estate be opened?

When a loved one who has a Will passes away, an estate may need to be opened.  When must an Estate be opened?  If the decedent had assets solely in his or her own name that do not have named beneficiaries, the Will may need to be filed at the Register of Wills office in the county where the decedent resided.  It is best to consult with an elder law attorney to determine if it is necessary to open an estate.       

Estate Planning

Estate planning, including the preparation of Wills and Powers of Attorney, is a way to be prepared and to plan ahead for life's eventualities, whether it is disability, incapacity or death. It is a good idea to review your family's financial situation and insurance. You need to find out what legal documents you can have drafted to take care of your own needs and those of your family, such as a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Financial Power of Attorney as well as a Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will. An elder law attorney can best prepare documents to be sure that they are done properly for the protection of you and your family.

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