Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

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. Continue Reading Myth #1 – I don’t have enough to warrant any estate planning.

What should I discuss with my family?

Discussing your eventual death is not a pleasant conversation to have, but it is a necessary one.  It is important to let your family know what your wishes are.  Depending on what your documents say, your family members may have some big decisions to make regarding your end of life care, burial, and dispositions of assets.  If you have never discussed any of this with them or told them where to look for your documents, they could be left in the dark during an already trying time.

I have many clients who come in to a meeting feeling like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, who visibly exhale with relief by the time we execute their documents.  Preparing and executing the proper document is crucial but take it a step farther.  Let someone know about your final decisions.  You took the first difficult step by having the documents drafted.  Now make sure someone knows where to find them and what to do with them.  This will provide peace of mind to you now and to your loved ones in the future. Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions – Day Five

Do I really need a Power of Attorney?

There is no legal requirement that you execute a Power of Attorney, financial or otherwise.  You could go through life never having to give someone else authority to act on your behalf.  But, what are the chances that you will go through your whole life never needing someone to step in and act on your behalf even if it’s just for a short period of time?  That you will never find yourself in the hospital unable to transfer money to cover bills or unable to communicate your medical decisions?  That you will always maintain you mental faculties? Probably pretty remote.

So what happens if you never appointed an agent to act on your behalf?  The Court will have to intervene.  A petition will be prepared to have you declared incapacitated and a guardian will be appointed to make decisions on your behalf.  Once you are declared incapacitated, you can no longer make legally binding decisions for yourself.  The Court will now require your guardian to file annual reports of all of your assets and income.  This is an intrusion most people want to avoid.  Preparing a Power of Attorney and appointing someone to act as your agent for financial and medical decisions while you are competent avoids involving the Court in a guardianship process.  Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions – Day Four

What happens to my pets when I die?

You can leave it up to your Executor to determine what happens to them.  But I suspect that, if you are looking for an answer to this question, letting someone else decide what happens to the four legged family members is not good enough for you.  Fortunately, the Legislature also didn’t think leaving it up to your Executor was a good enough option thus, in 2006, Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to adopt a pet trust law.  You can now create a trust to provide for the care and maintenance of your pets that were living at the time of your death.  The trust terminates when the animal dies or, if you are providing for the care of more than one pet, at the death of the last surviving animal.  Through this trust document you can set aside money for the specific purpose of caring for your pet.  You can also direct where the pet is to live and appoint a successor caregiver as you would for a guardian of children or an alternate executor.  Pet trusts are particularly useful when you have an animal with costly medical bills, or that requires some sort of special care.  You also know your pet better than anyone and are the best person to determine who can care for it.  Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions – Day Three

What is Probate?

The formal definition is the process by which an estate is formally established for a decedent and representatives are appointed to handle the decedent’s affairs.  Probate is not always necessary.  Depending on the nature of the asset, some can transfer outside of the probate process.  These assets are generally assets that are jointly titled with right of survivorship or assets that contain beneficiary designations.  If you are unsure how your assets will transfer, it is important to speak with an attorney.  Check back on the Lancaster Law Blog in a few weeks for more information on the probate process and whether it is necessary to avoid it.

What happens if I lose my Will?

The short answer is DON’T!  But in all seriousness, life happens and accidents happen.  Wills can be misplaced, written on, or destroyed.  I try to emphasize to my clients the importance of keeping your documents in a safe place, see yesterday’s post for more.  But what happens if you have tried to keep it safe, and a freak asteroid comes along and destroys your Will?  Well if you were lucky enough to be standing anywhere other than where the asteroid hit and you have capacity, I highly suggest redrafting your Will.  Remember you can always redo your Will so long as you have capacity to do so.  If you happen to be holding your Will when the asteroid hit, well, you obviously won’t be redoing it. At that point, hopefully a copy of the Will exists.  That is the first hurdle.  I say hurdle because probating a copy is not an easy process. The person or people trying to submit the copy to probate must prove that the copy is the same as the lost Will.  This can be done with two competent witnesses attesting to the execution and contents of the Will.  This process can take a while and involves a hearing.

So do your best to keep your Will in a safe place, but if it is destroyed or misplaced, it’s not the end of the world.  As for the asteroid, I guess that will depend on the circumstances.

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.

What is a Special Needs Trust and why would I need one?

A Special Needs Trust is a device that allows for those receiving public benefits for a disability to still be able to enjoy the benefit of inheritance, gifts, or other transfers of wealth.  Typically in order to receive Medical Assistance or Supplemental Security Income, a person must have less than $2,000.00 in assets.  So imagine this – you have three children, one of whom receives benefits due to a disability, making that child an equal beneficiary of your estate could disqualify the child from his or her benefits, which could be catastrophic depending on the nature of the benefits.  Without a special needs trust, your options are limited.  You either disinherit your child or you cause them to lose their benefits.  With a special needs trust, you can now treat them equally under your Will and allow them to maintain his or her benefits.  Special Needs Trusts are very technical and have various requirements that need to be followed.  If you or a family member believe a special needs trust is necessary, you should consult an experienced estate planning attorney. Continue Reading Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions- Day One

Today kicks off the 10th annual National Estate Planning Awareness Week.  I will do my best to help promote estate planning awareness by using this important week to address your questions and common myths about estate planning.

I am frequently asked a lot of similar questions from not only clients, but family and friends as well.  I also encounter numerous myths that people allow to impact their estate planning.  Over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed presenting the “Top 10 Myths of Estate Planning” to local groups in the community.  My presentation helps audiences understand that estate planning does not have to be complex or financially burdensome.  Taking the time to do some planning now, can save your family confusion and in some cases, heartache in the future. Continue Reading 10th Annual National Estate Planning Awareness Week

As summer vacation hits its peak, we sometimes start thinking about estate planning before we board the plane for that long-awaited getaway.  We’ve put it off for one reason or another but is it time to just take care of it?  Figuring out your estate plan can seem overwhelming but a qualified and thoughtful estate planning attorney will answer all of your questions and help to make it easy.

What paperwork do I need?  Who do I appoint?  What do I need to appoint someone for?  What documents do what?  Do I need a trust?  Over the last few years, we’ve published several blog articles to help you sort through it all.  Here are a few posts that will help you feel more comfortable with the process of completing your estate planning. Continue Reading Is your Estate Planning Ready for Summer Vacation?

According to this report, Pennsylvania has the fifth highest percentage of residents over the age of 65. As the Pennsylvanian population ages, senior citizens face a myriad of issues they may not have thought of or planned for such as living longer than their retirement, increasing health insurance costs, being the target of scammers looking for some quick cash, needing help with their finances and health care decisions, and navigating the confusing world of Social Security and Medicare.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) recently released “A Guide to Legal Issues for Pennsylvania Senior Citizens.”  In an effort to ensure this guide is made available to anyone who may benefit from it, the PBA provides this information free of charge and did not copyright the documents. Continue Reading Legal Issues for Senior Citizens- A Guide

In the world of you just can’t make this stuff up, a woman recently swallowed over $7,000 in cash to keep it from her husband.  Apparently she had been saving for a vacation to Panama and was concerned that her husband would take it during a recent dispute.

There are several ways this woman could have protected those assets rather than swallowing them.  The most obvious answer would be a bank account in her name only.  While the couple is married and the money, if earned during the marriage, would be considered marital property in Pennsylvania in the event of a divorce, it would have been protected from him squandering it or taking it from her.  If she was so concerned about him taking her money, a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage could have protected the entire sum and then some.  If this distrust of her husband is a new development, she may want to speak with an attorney about her rights and how to protect this money.

Swallowing any sum of money is not a good idea.  It does make others question one’s capacity.  Perhaps a guardian may need to be appointed to protect her assets.  According to doctors, $5,700 was recovered from the woman during emergency surgery.  Which begs the question- what happened to the rest of the money?

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Family Law.