If a person dies without a will, a Pennsylvania judge may determine who gets his or her assets under the intestacy law. A judge may also decide who will raise that individual’s children in the absence of a guardianship nomination. Although a will can be an important part of your estate plan, it may not meet all of your needs. For instance, you may need to create beneficiary designations to ensure that money in a retirement or brokerage account go to the right individuals.

Beneficiary designations trump wills

It is important to note that a beneficiary designation takes precedence over anything that you put into your will. Therefore, it is a good idea to routinely review these documents to ensure that they reflect your wishes. In many cases, your spouse must be the beneficiary of a 401(k). If your spouse passes before you do, it may be possible to transfer the account to another person or entity upon your death. If no beneficiary is named, a retirement plan or other asset will likely revert to your estate.

Other documents to consider adding to your estate plan

A living will can outline what you would like to happen as far as certain medical treatment if you are in a terminal condition or a state of permanent unconsciousness or persistent vegetative state. For instance, you can direct a medical provider to let you pass away without receiving treatment or make every attempt possible to save your life.

Giving a person or legal representative power of attorney over your financial or medical affairs may also be helpful if you ever become incapacitated. Some people like to name separate financial and medical agents, and these individuals can be given either broad or narrow authority to act on your behalf.

A lawyer can help you learn more about the potential benefits and disadvantages of a will, living will or other estate planning tools. Legal counsel can also help you create a will, trust, or power of attorney, or ensure that your existing estate plan documents still meet your needs.