FAQs About Estate Planning
Answering Your Most Common Questions
Whether you are preparing to draft an estate plan or find yourself in need of a probate attorney, our team at Chestnut Hill Legal has everything you need to protect your assets and ensure your wishes are carried out. Naturally, something as personal as this is going to bring up many questions. Our Philadelphia estate planning attorney has taken the time to answer some of the most common questions we receive.
Call our offices today at (610) 991-7986 if you have any further questions or are ready to get started!
Do I need a will?
If you don’t own anything or everything you own is jointly held by you and your spouse (i.e. a shared bank account and family home), then odds are your estate won’t need to go through the probate process because everything will transfer to your spouse automatically. However, this is a rare condition, and odds are you’ll probably want a little more flexibility with your final wishes. When this is the case, you absolutely should have a will as a part of your estate plan.
Do I need a lawyer to create a will?
Not necessarily, however working with a Philadelphia estate planning attorney can ensure that the will you create will be thorough and capable of standing up to scrutiny. Wills and estate plans created without a skilled attorney’s help may lead to disputes or tax issues that could have otherwise been avoided with a little bit more knowledge and experience in probate law.
Can I create a handwritten will?
Yes, Pennsylvania is one of a few states that accept handwritten wills, otherwise known as “holographic wills” as valid and binding. However, they still need to be properly signed and witnessed in a legally accepted fashion and these wills are also still subject to the same possible scrutiny and dispute should a beneficiary wish to raise any questions about it. It’s strongly advised that you don’t leave your estate to a hand-written will that is completed in a last-minute scramble.
How often should I review my will?
You should review your will and entire estate plan whenever any major life events happen, such as the birth of a child, change in career, major asset acquisition, and much more. However, you should also review your estate plan annually to ensure that everything is still current in terms of things like contact information, asset lists, and more.
Do I need a trust?
The answer depends largely on your estate planning goals and what you wish to happen to your assets, as well as how many assets you own. Generally, those with substantial amounts of assets will likely wish to place some or all of them into one or more trusts in order to maximize their ability to avoid the probate process and prevent money and asset loss through estate taxation. However, there are other things you can do with trusts, and an attorney can help you learn more about them.
How do I change my estate plan?
It’s important to have an estate plan, even from an early adulthood age. This means it’s not uncommon for your wishes to change as your life progresses, so naturally you’ll need to change your estate plan along with them. Minor changes to your plan can be done with a document known as a “codicil,” however too many changes can lead to a complex and convoluted plan, at which point you should consider revoking your plan and creating an entirely new one from scratch.
What is intestate law?
Intestate law is the process by which your individually-held assets pass on to your surviving family members, including your spouse, surviving parents, children, and more when you do not have a will to express your wishes. Intestate law leaves your loved ones exposed to possible taxation, potentially meaning a significant amount of asset loss after passing away.
What is an executor?
An executor is an individual who is given a fiduciary duty to execute your estate plan to the best of their wishes. Executors are responsible for making contact with beneficiaries, passing on their assets, handling all deeds and transfers, and ensuring that the estate is distributed according to your best wishes, even if it means foregoing a chance to benefit themselves.
How long does probate take?
There’s really no telling how long the probate process can take. It’s not uncommon for an estate to be open for a year or more, but an executor who has proper counsel and guidance in their duty can often complete their job in less time. Pennsylvania’s probate process is fairly efficient, but simply fulfilling all required duties and filing the mandatory paperwork can take some time, which means distributing the assets to heirs can take months. As a good rule of thumb: the more complex an estate, the longer it will take to fully close.