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Thank you to everyone who attended the first of three estate planning conversations Russell, Krafft & Gruber is hosting in Ephrata.  Gary Krafft, Kathy Krafft Miller and I had the pleasure of speaking with several people who wanted to have a better understanding of the estate planning process and the necessary documents.  It was an

This is the final installment of the intestate success series.  To see the other installments start here.

If you’ve already read the second post in this series, then you know that the intestate succession can be rather complicated when you leave a surviving spouse and other family members.  But what happens when you don’t have a surviving spouse?  How are assets distributed in those circumstances?  Well, it depends on who survives you.
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This is the second installment of our Intestate Laws series.  In case you missed the first one, check it out here.

Probably the biggest misconception people have about dying without a Will is that their spouse will just get everything.  Unfortunately, this is only the case under a small select set of circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but taking a chance that my situation would fit one of the few circumstances where my husband would inherit everything we worked for is not enough for me to leave it to the intestate laws to determine the distribution of my estate.  So what are the circumstances that leave everything to your spouse without a Will?  The only way your spouse will inherit all of your intestate estate if you do not have a proper Will, is if you have no living parents or children.  That is it.  No other circumstances allow for your spouse to inherit your entire intestate estate.  Outside of the intestate estate,  the only other way to ensure that your spouse inherits everything is for you to be absolutely 100% sure that every single thing you own is titled jointly with your spouse with right of survivorship or that you have named your spouse as a beneficiary on everything.  Speaking from experience, even the most diligent people forget to change beneficiary designations or something happens before they get around to it.  It is simply too risky to leave something so important to chance.
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“I’ve got to do a Will so that the government doesn’t get everything!”  I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard some version of this sentiment.  While I am certainly a proponent of having and regularly updating a Will, preventing the government from getting everything is not actually one of the reasons you need a Will.  Those of you who have read my Myths of Estate Planning series might remember some examples I have given about how probate assets are distributed when a person fails to have a Will. In this series of posts, we will help you understand what could happen if your estate is distributed according to Pennsylvania intestate rules.
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“I’m so confused!  The woman at the bank said I have to keep this account here.  The guy at the insurance company said I should really do this.  And my friend said she didn’t do any of this.  I don’t know what to do!”

The above is a general excerpt of conversations I have with Executors all the time.  The first few months of handling an estate can be tough.  You have just lost someone close to you and now you need to sort out what they left behind and are dealing with so many people on so many matters.  You will get advice from almost everyone you encounter.  You will hear stories about how the person you are interacting with handled it.  And you will most certainly interact with someone who will adamantly insist they know the law and what they are telling you is the exact opposite of what your attorney told you.  Or at least you think it is the exact opposite.  Come to think of it, now you are not so sure because you have heard so many different things from so many different people.
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We’ve noticed a pattern recently. It is often that I receive a call from a client or a relative of a client the day someone dies asking what they need to do. A person bereft with emotion, overwhelmed, and sometimes in a state of shock just trying to make sense of everything coming at them at once. My advice is always the same: Take a deep breath and take a moment to grieve. We’ll walk you through what you need to do and when.

My job is to make this process as painless as possible. In a majority of the estates I handle, the person tasked with handling the estate was close to the decedent and impacted by their death. It is completely understandable that this person would be overwhelmed by all of the new information and questions coming at them.
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When I started law school it felt like the professors were speaking a different language.  And in a way, they were.  The legal profession uses so many terms that have very particular meanings, that even though lawyers tend to be very well spoken, it can be hard to understand what we are saying. A word can mean so many different things in different contexts.  Take the word harbor for example.  As a noun it is a sheltered area of water that is deep enough to anchor a boat in and as a verb it means to provide shelter.  A person can harbor a criminal on their boat which is docked in the harbor.  Sometimes words that people use regularly have a popular definition and a legal definition.  For example, people often say someone is harassing them when they receive a few unwanted text messages or phone calls.  Sure that can be annoying, but the behavior doesn’t meet the legal definition of harassment, which calls for behavior that goes far beyond the behavior of your average Joe with a texting problem.  So how are you to know what means what?  And how does this relate to National Estate Planning Week?  The estate world is no different than the criminal or civil world.  We have a vernacular all our own.  Below is a quick reference guide for some commonly used terms and a non-legal speak definition; terms you might find in some of my other blog posts.
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This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.  That would be the sound of a text message showing up on my phone, watch, iPad, and computer all at the same time.  Don’t worry, I actually have the sound turned off on all but one of those devices, so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me insane.  I love the convenience of it.  No matter which device I am using, I can easily respond to a text or call without having to figure out where the heck I left my phone. And because my fiancé has sworn off all things Apple, I never have to worry about him seeing any surprises I’m planning.

But we’re not like most couples.  Most couples I know have the same type of phone and if it is an iPhone, they often share the same Apple ID.  Sure, this is convenient for a number of reasons.  But what happens when a couple decides to separate and forgets that their ex has access to all of their text messages?  Or can see their emails?  Sadly, I’ve had more than one client who discovered their spouse was unfaithful because the spouse forgot their devices were linked.  I’ve had clients who can’t figure out how their ex found out about someone they were talking to months after separating even though they were never seen together publicly and most communication was limited to texting.  If you shared an account or had your texts or calls going to another device that you do not have exclusive control over, you need to be mindful that your ex may still have access to what you assume are private calls or text messages.
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