Why do I need a Pennsylvania Will? Reasons to have a Will in PA.

We are often confronted by clients who have put off writing their Wills, in some cases until it is almost too late. Understandably, most people do not enjoy contemplating their own demise, and the decision-making process of “who gets what” can be difficult in certain circumstances. However, a so-called “last will and testament” can serve not only to designate who gets what, but also many other important, if less glamorous, functions. Wills are among the few legal documents that can be enforced after the maker has died and can no longer speak for himself; therefore, it is important that the laws governing the enforceability of Wills are rigidly enforced. In this way, the maker of a Will can be reasonably sure that what he intends to happen with his property will in fact happen. For most people, this assurance confers great peace of mind.

As an initial matter, it is appropriate to clear up a common misconception. People often explain that they are coming in to our office to prepare a Pennsylvania Will because “otherwise the state will take everything.” In most cases, this is untrue. If a person dies without a Will, we call that person intestate. Pennsylvania has a set of laws which guide the disposition of a person’s property if he or she dies intestate. That law, commonly known as the law of Intestate Succession, can be found at 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2104 et seq. Put simply, the law provides rules detailing who gets what, depending on how close a familial relationship the beneficiary had to the deceased. Spouses and children will always receive something under this scheme. A full explanation of the law of Intestate Succession is a topic for a different article (click the link below), but suffice it to say that the state will not “take everything” so long as the intestate individual was survived by reasonably close family members, as far removed from the deceased as uncles, aunts, and their children and grandchildren.

The laws of testate succession, in other words, the rules governing the execution and construction of PA Wills, are found in the Pennsylvania Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries Code at 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2501 et seq. As a general rule, one is competent to make out a PA Will if he is over eighteen and knows who he is, what he owns, and who the natural objects of his bounty are (commonly, close family members). If those conditions are satisfied, the person making the Will, also known as the testator, can write any person or corporation into or out of his Will. Wills drafted by lawyers in Pennsylvania enjoy a strong presumption of validity – if you use a “free last will and testament form” your wishes may be more likely to be challenged.

Aside from the peace of mind of knowing to whom one’s property will pass, another benefit of writing a Will is that the Will can designate the person who will administer the estate: the Executor. Oftentimes people want to avoid squabbles between siblings as to who will be in charge of their affairs when they pass away. Designating an Executor can eliminate many sibling rivalry issues.

The act of sitting down with a lawyer to write a Will can have other, perhaps unintended, benefits. The process of reviewing one’s affairs in preparation for writing a Will can turn up issues that were previously overlooked. For instance, a sole proprietor or a shareholder in a closely-held corporation may need to devise strategies for passing on assets to her children. Especially in divorce or single-parent cases, it may be important to name a Guardian for one’s children. The testator may want to set up a trust to benefit a charity, or children or grandchildren, establishing rules by which to provide for a college education. The possibilities to maintain control over wealth when one sets up a trust are nearly endless.

But, for those whose Pennsylvania estate might be subject to Federal Estate tax, the best reason for preparing a Will is the potential tax savings. For either individuals or for those couples with joint assets close to or over one million dollars, Federal Tax planning can save tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Don’t wait until you’re unable to think clearly about these issues. Take the time to review your affairs, and sit down with a lawyer at Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. to discuss how to effectively transfer your wealth. You will enjoy greater peace of mind, the administration of your estate will be less complex, and your heirs will thank you.

Over the past thirty years, the lawyers of Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. have written thousands of Wills. We regularly counsel clients on simple and complex Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts, and Estate Administration in Montgomery County, PA, Berks County, PA, and Chester County, PA. Please consider the attorneys at Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C. when you plan for the future. Remember, we strive for "Peace of Mind." Click here to contact us today.

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