“Pennsylvania Caregiver Magazine” Summer 2008 TRIB/Total Media
Protect your estate with a WILL
ASK THE EXPERT
By Hal English, Esq.
Time has continued to pass and you still do not have a Will or have not reviewed your Will to see if it needs updating. Attorney Hal English of H.A. English & Associates explains the importance of a Will and the procedure you should take to protect your wishes, and your assets.
What is a Will?
A Will is a document that simply states who is in charge of your estate and gets to divide your personal assets, pay debts, taxes and distribute your assets after your death. During your lifetime you can manipulate intentionally or unintentionally how your assets will be transferred at death.
What assets are contained within a Will?
A Will deals with assets that are only in your individual name. During our lifetime we can jointly title assets with other persons such as our spouse or children. Upon the death of the joint owner, that property by operation of law passes to the joint owner no matter what the Will says. If you have several children and make a bank account joint with one child, despite the Will saying it goes to all children equally, that bank account will go to that surviving child as your joint owner.
The same holds true for beneficiary designations such as life insurance, annuities or a retirement accounts. During your life you designate who is the primary and alternate beneficiary of those investments. These assets also pass to your named beneficiary despite what your Will says. If the named beneficiary dies before you, then the assets would be passed to your estate under your Will.
You may also own a bank account that transfers on death, which are known as payable on death (POD) or in trust for (ITF) accounts. These are in your name under your social security number and belong to you during your lifetime. If that person designated survives you, the account will go to them. If that named beneficiary dies before you, then it would go into your estate under your Will.
How often should a Will be updated?
Wills should be updated when birth, marriage, death and divorce occur amongst your interested family members. If none of those happen, I still think you should review it every few years. Wills are meant to be updated as circumstances change.
Where should I begin when developing a Will?
A qualified lawyer can help review your estate plan to see how you have things titled, your assets and your debts and seek to set up a plan to minimize inheritance taxes, eliminate the probate process, protect your assets from estate recovery by the Commonwealth and plan for long term health cost coverage. Seek out an experienced attorney that handles wills and estates. A tip is to ask for a copy of the lawyer’s continuing legal education compliance record that would show what areas that he/she studies.
Attorney Hal English has been practicing law since 1987 and is an elder law attorney, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves serving as a Judge Advocate and is the incoming Hampton Rotary President. He has offices in Pittsburgh and Allison Park. He may be reached at 412.931.6300.