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.
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

“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.
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

“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.
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading