When “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018, her family thought she died without a Will. There were many questions about what would happen to her estate and what Aretha’s wishes were upon her death.

In legal terms, it was believed that Aretha died intestate, or without a Will. You can read more about Pennsylvania’s intestate laws and how an estate is handled when someone dies without a Will here.

In many cases, when someone dies without a Will, it can cause controversy in an already grieving family. For Aretha Franklin, we can only assume that the vast size of her estate and the legacy attached to it left her heirs wondering Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
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“Irrevocable Trust” sounds so formal and intimidating. Also, there are two very different pronunciations. Regardless of how you pronounce “irrevocable,” it can be intimidating if you are not properly advised during the drafting process. When a person creates an irrevocable trust, they relinquish ownership and control of the assets they are transferring to the trust. The assets are then controlled by the Trustee appointed in the trust document. The Trustee must control those assets in accordance with the rules outlined in the trust document. It is crucial that you are satisfied with the trust document before signing it, because unlike a revocable trust which can be amended at will in most cases, there are only a few limited circumstances where an irrevocable trust can be amended or terminated.
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Next to a Testamentary Trust created for the protection of minor’s assets, the most commonly requested trust is a revocable trust. A revocable trust can be a great tool if you need a little more control over assets, have property in different states, or have some more complex estate planning considerations. However, there are some drawbacks to a revocable trust as well.
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What is a trust and why do I need one? A trust is a great estate planning tool when used effectively and in the right situation. But most people know very little about trusts and often times think their estate does not warrant a trust. Over the next several posts, I hope to provide more information about trusts in general and help you decide if a trust is something worth considering.

When dealing with a trust, it can seem like the document is speaking another language. Below is a quick primer of terms commonly used in conjunction with trusts. After all you can’t decide if a trust is right for you if you don’t know what it says.
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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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How often have you heard the term “probate” estate or assets?  Do you know what that term means?  What about “non-probate” assets?

Upon your death, the assets of your estate are divided into two different categories; probate and non-probate assets.

Probate assets are typically those assets that are titled in your name alone that do not have beneficiary designations or some other transfer on death designations.  Probate assets are also those assets in which you have a divisible interest, such as a joint tenancy – not joint with rights of survivorship.

The distribution of probate assets upon your death is governed either by your Will or Pennsylvania intestacy laws (watch for future blog posts about intestacy).  When you die with a Will, you are said to have died testate (with a last will and testament) as your Will directs the distribution of your probate estate.  If you die without a Will, you are said to have died intestate (without a last will and testament), in which case the intestacy laws will govern and dictate to whom your estate is to be distributed.  Intestacy laws are the “default rules” that apply only if you never had a Will or do not have a valid Will or your Will does not effectively dispose of your probate estate.
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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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