I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Oh I don’t have anything but debt, why do I need to plan?” or “I’ll get around to it, besides it is not like I am rich or anything.” People tend to think that estate planning is something only the wealthy need to worry about. This probably comes from a lack of understanding as to what estate planning really is and what it can do for you and your family. Estate planning for most people involves three documents – Will, Financial Power of Attorney, and a Healthcare Power of Attorney. (For more on what each of these documents do, stay tuned to the Lancaster Law Blog.) Estate planning is a comprehensive approach that covers needs during your lifetime, at the end of your life and after death. If you have any assets and you want to control what happens to them, you need a Will. If you have children and want to control who is caring for them after your death, you need a Will.
Several attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP have written blog articles extolling the virtues of writing a Will. Well allow me to throw my hat in the ring as well. I have worked with too many clients who come to us with an estate that is subject to the Pennsylvania intestate succession rules because the decedent passed away without a Will. Some of the conversations that follow with the person’s family and friends can be heartbreaking. It is hard to comprehend that all of the verbal promises Uncle Rick made every Christmas that you would get his prized 1932 Roadster on his death could be meaningless unless Uncle Rick wrote it down. It won’t matter that this is the car the two of you worked on tirelessly for years to restore. If Uncle Rick didn’t have a Will and you are not in line as an intestate heir, you are out of luck. You better hope Aunt Sally wants to gift it to you.
Let’s take it a step further. You and your spouse have two young children. You both agree you want your sister to care for them if something happened to you and your spouse. You also agree that you do NOT want your father-in-law to care for them. If you do not leave a Will appointing a guardian, your father-in-law can file for guardianship of your children. Without guidance from you and your spouse, the Court very well may grant it.
You do not need to be a multi-millionaire for proper estate planning to be important for you and your loved ones. Whether your completed estate plan is simple or complex, the peace of mind it offers is invaluable. So as the Mythbusters would say, this myth is busted.
Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning.