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Estate Planning

Pennsylvania Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning is essential to protect your family in a medical emergency and after you pass away. An estate planning lawyer can guide you through the critical decisions and paperwork to help you design a plan that meets your family’s needs.  

Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. When you meet with your estate planning attorney, they will get to know you, your family, and your goals. Selecting the right estate planning documents requires knowledge and thoughtfulness. Pennsylvania estate planning attorney Tammy S. Dusharm offers the compassion and experience you need when planning for your family’s future. For over six years, attorney Tammy S. Dusharm has been helping Pennsylvania families plan their estates. Let us help you prepare for your future today.

Why Estate Planning Is Important

When a person dies, their estate goes through probate. If a person dies without leaving a will, their property will be distributed according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws. Usually, that results in the estate going to the decedent’s spouse and children or, if the decedent had no children, their parents. Executing a will is essential to ensuring your property goes where you want. But estate planning goes beyond just the distribution of assets. The essential estate planning documents include the following:

  • Will—provides written instructions for the distribution of your property at death;

  • General durable power of attorney—appoints a family member or other trusted individual to manage your financial affairs if you are incapacitated;

  • Living will—instructs your healthcare provider on your wishes for end-of-life care and life-sustaining treatment;

  • Healthcare power of attorney—authorizes a family member to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot; and

  • Trust—appoints a trustee to manage and distribute property you have placed in a trust.

An estate plan should also include recording your wishes for healthcare and end-of-life treatment. If you become incapacitated, your family can then make decisions on your behalf according to your wishes. Estate planning should also involve setting plans for your funeral and payment of your bills so your family doesn’t have to worry about those details. You can also explore options to place property in trusts so that those assets can avoid probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Estate Planning in PA

Each state has laws detailing the formal requirements that estate planning documents must meet and the procedures that must be followed to distribute property. Title 20 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (Pa.C.S.) governs estates and probate in Pennsylvania. When a person dies, their personal representative must submit their will to the Register of Wills for probate. The correct Register is the county where the person lived when they died or where their property is located. The Register ensures the will is valid and issues letters testamentary or of administration. The personal representative cannot take control of the estate until the Register issues the letters. 

A will must be in writing and signed at the end by the person intending to make the document a will to be valid. A personal representative can be a person named in the will or another interested party authorized by the law. In a dispute over the will’s validity or the personal representative’s actions, the Orphans’ Court will hear the case and issue orders.

Living Will vs. Advance Directive 

Under Pennsylvania law, an “advance health care directive” refers to any combination of a living will or health care power of attorney. An advanced directive instructs your healthcare provider on your wishes when you cannot communicate those wishes because you are terminally ill or unconscious. A living will is a written document containing your choices about whether your doctor should provide life-sustaining treatment. A healthcare power of attorney names the person who can make decisions about treatment on your behalf. It’s a good idea to talk to this person in advance, so they understand your wishes. No one likes talking about what might happen if they are in an end-stage medical condition or unconscious. However, documenting your wishes in advance saves your family from the stress of making these important decisions under pressure.

Difference Between a Trust and a Will

A trust and a will are estate planning documents that specify how you want property distributed. A will must go through probate, which ensures the will’s validity and appoints a personal representative to administer the estate. Creditors must receive their share of an estate before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance under a will. A will can also create a trust (called a “testamentary trust”) and include instructions for property not included in a trust. You can also elect to create a “living trust” and place your property directly into that trust without using a provision in your will. When you create a trust, you place your property in the control of a trustee. A trustee has a legal duty to protect trust property and must distribute the trust property according to the trust document. Living trusts do not need to go through probate. That allows your family to receive their inheritance from the trust without oversight from the Register of Wills.

Small Estates in PA

Pennsylvania provides a process for small estates that avoids lengthy probate administration. Under 20 Pa.C.S. §  3102, an estate qualifies for the simplified process when it consists of personal property valued under $50,000. A family member can petition the Orphans’ Court for permission to distribute the estate without probate. Filing a petition to settle a small estate requires information about the deceased’s estate, liabilities, and heirs. Even though it’s a simplified process, you should still consult a lawyer if you want to petition for the small estate process.

Why Choose Dusharm Law LLC as Your Estate Planning Lawyer

Families with estates of any size and value can benefit from estate planning. You can trust Dusharm Law to understand your needs and help you protect your family. With nearly 15 years of legal experience, we can help you navigate Pennsylvania’s estate rules and requirements. Our firm provides comprehensive, compassionate representation to help you design the estate plan that is right for you. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you safeguard your family’s future.

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