By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
It is estimated that over half of Americans do not have an estate plan. Some will say that they haven’t gotten around to it, while others may feel they don’t need one. People think of an estate as a stately home on sprawling grounds owned by someone with great wealth. The truth is, if you have any kind of personal property – a home, car, furnishings, 401K, pension, bank account, even a pet – then you have an estate, and you should have a plan to manage it when you are no longer able to do it yourself.
Estate planning is particularly important for Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – many of whom are well into their retirement years. Estate planning is more than simply deciding who will receive all of your possessions when you die. It also covers important decisions like who will care for your children, and who will make financial and health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
At the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster, we can help Baby Boomers avoid common estate planning mistakes. Contact us today and let us show you how a sound will and estate plan can alleviate these common concerns:
How Can an Estate Plan Help Protect My Parents and Provide for My Children?
If you’re a Baby Boomer, you may be sandwiched between a unique set of challenges – elderly parents and children who are just reaching adulthood. The best way to ensure that each generation is leaving a meaningful legacy is to create a well-thought-out estate plan that includes a will. If you, your aging parents, or your adult children die without a will, you are declared intestate, meaning the state makes decisions on the distributions of your assets. Pennsylvania has a law of succession to determine how heirs will inherit your estate, and it may not reflect the decisions that you, your parents or adult children would have made yourselves. Contact Going and Plank and let us show you how an estate plan can help you care for your aging parents, your children and yourself.
What Will Happen to My Family Heirlooms and Keepsakes?
Family heirlooms and keepsakes present a unique set of challenges in estate planning. While it is easy to divide liquid assets, like the cash in your savings account, it is often harder to decide how personal assets will be distributed, especially those with value beyond dollars and cents. No matter how uncomfortable the topic, it is always best to have a frank discussion with your heirs about these personal assets and put your wishes in writing to avoid family conflict. In the case of heirlooms like art and jewelry, consider having the items appraised so you have an exact record of their worth. There are numerous ways to transfer such assets, from passing them on as an inheritance to gifting them while you are still living. Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank and let us help you develop an estate plan for your valued possessions that is fair, equitable and cost-effective.
How Can I Minimize Inheritance Taxes?
Unlike an estate tax, which is charged to the estate of a recently deceased person, an inheritance tax is charged to the heir. While Pennsylvania does not have an estate tax, it is one of six states that has an inheritance tax. Some beneficiaries, such as spouses, are exempt, but others are charged at varying rates depending on their relationship to the deceased. An experienced estate attorney can carefully structure an estate plan that lowers taxes and other costs. The first step in that process is making a will. Administering an estate without a will results in added stress and additional costs to your heirs, which can reduce their financial gain.
Can My Estate Plan Provide for My Long-Term Care?
While you may think an estate plan relates only to life after you’re gone, it can also play an important role while you are still living. Writing a living will with an advanced health care directive ensures your end-of-life wishes, such as disconnection of life-sustaining measures, are followed and relieves your family from making difficult decisions in times of emotional stress. Through an estate plan, you can also designate a power of attorney, someone that you authorize to pay bills or make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapable of doing so yourself.
How Can I Provide for My Loved One With Special Needs?
While caring for minor children is no longer a concern for many Baby Boomers, those who have dependents with special needs must carefully consider the best way to provide for those needs. Inheriting a large lump sum of cash could disqualify your loved one from receiving government assistance in the form of Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid benefits. One alternative is placing the inheritance into a special needs trust. Since the money is not going directly to your loved one, it will not affect their ability to receive benefits. Instead, a trustee of your choice can spend the money on their behalf, covering expenses ranging from personal care to recreation. Contact Going and Plank to discuss setting up a special needs trust.
Can I Donate to Charity as Part of My Will?
There are many ways to make charitable donations, including establishing trusts, bequeathing property or assets, or even naming a charity as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement account. If you choose to leave a gift to a good cause use the official name of the charity, the address, and the registered charity number. The Law Offices of Going and Plank can also help you create a more lasting legacy by setting up a charitable trust. Contact us today to learn how.
Do I Need an Estate Plan for My Digital Assets?
When Baby Boomers were children and young adults, there were no personal computers or cellphones, no internet and all that comes with it – from online banking to social media. Today, as Boomers undertake estate planning, they must consider the transfer of not only their tangible assets but their intangible ones, as well. That includes digital photos and videos, online bank accounts and storefronts, social media accounts and electronically scanned documents. An estate plan should include directives on how to manage or dispose of digital assets, as well as the usernames and passwords necessary to access them.
Should I Choose a Trust Instead of a Will?
Depending on the size of your estate and your distribution goals, you may want to consider establishing a trust – a separate legal entity that allows a third party of your choice to manage your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries. There are a variety of trusts, some of which can be set up while you are still living and others that take effect upon your death. Trusts can bypass the costly probate process and make assets immediately accessible upon your death. They can also reduce estate taxes, protect the inheritance from creditors, and ensure that assets bequeathed for the benefit of dependents are used according to your wishes. Trusts can be excellent options for larger estates that may incur federal estate taxes, but they are more difficult and costly to create than wills and may not be necessary for smaller estates. Contact Going and Plank to learn about the types of trusts available in Pennsylvania and whether a trust is right for you.
At the Law Offices of Going and Plank, we provide caring and compassionate guidance to create wills, trusts, living wills, powers of attorney, business succession plans, and probate and estate administration. Contact us today to create an estate plan that meets your needs.