frequently asked questions
You have questions. We have answers.
Do I need an estate plan?
Hate to break it to you, but you already have an estate plan – we don’t think you’re not going to like it very much, though. There are a whole bevy of reasons to create an estate plan tailored to the specific needs of you and your family, but the most pressing is very simple: dying without a will leaves your estate in the hands of the government. And we all know that the government loves to spend your money. The probate court (see FAQ #3, below) will appoint an expensive estate administrator for everyone who passes without a will (“intestate”, if you want to sound fancy). Further, if you have minor children, you lose a significant amount of control over who will take care of them. No parent wants to leave the care of their children to the vagaries of a family law judge or the volunteered kindness of family members.
So the question really isn’t whether you need an estate plan. You have one. The question is whether you want an estate plan designed and tailored to serve you and your loved ones or an estate plan designed to serve the state.
What kind of estate plan is best for me?
We haven’t even met yet! We’re not being coy: the benefit of working with an expert estate planning attorney is that your estate plan will be crafted specifically for your circumstances, requirements, hopes, family, etc. Each plan we produce at McGrannLAW is different from the others; each plan looks like our clients’ lives.
With that said, we have a library of free articles and videos speaking to everything from basic wills to revocable living trusts to sophisticated asset protection (links for each of these).
Do I have to pay taxes?
The short answer is yes, unless you qualify for a little-known clause deep in the Internal Revenue Code that exempts anyone who is personally financing rockets for space tourism from paying taxes. More seriously: this isn’t quite the right question, as you won’t be paying any taxes – but your heirs will.
So the long answer is that you cannot put together an estate plan that has not tax implications; the goal is to structure the plan to minimize any taxes. There are many options for tax planning and asset protection, but no Get Out of Taxation card.
Probate is the process through which a will-based estate goes to effect the provisions of a will. Think of it this way: when a person with a will passes, that person’s Executor or Personal Representative will file the will with the local Court of Common Pleas. The Probate Court will supervise the distribution of your assets. Getting through probate will involve at least some of the following:
- Issuing Public Notice of Petition / Estate being opened
- Mailing notices to persons entitled to receive notice, including known creditors
- Obtaining and filing a bond, if necessary
- Preparing an inventory of assets and filing reports with court
- Obtaining appraisals for certain assets to establish value, if necessary
- Paying expenses
- Paying off debts
- Filing tax returns
- Filing accounting records with the court
- Petitioning the court for approval of final distribution of assets
- Filing declaration for final discharge (closing the estate)
In Pennsylvania, any will-based estate with assets in excess of $50,000 must go through probate. Probate can be costly, drawn out, and migraine-inducing, especially if someone challenges the validity of the will. One of the most significant downsides of a will-based estate plan is that it will flow through probate and will be subject to greater uncertainty than a trust-based estate.
What's living probate?
Living probate is a legal process invoked when a person is unable to manage his or her own affairs (finances, medical treatment, living arrangements) because of a physical or mental incapacity and has failed to plan for the possibility through a financial and/or medical power of attorney. In living probate, a court is petitioned to appoint a surrogate decision-maker (guardian) to act on behalf of an incapacitated person (ward).
Is estate planning worth this headache?
Yes. We cannot stress this enough. It is far more important to us at McGrannLAW that you establish an estate plan than it is for you to work with us. (Though we’d like that, too.) Please take the time and summon the courage to face this and put a plan in place for you and your loved ones. Over half of Americans have not yet established an estate plan – you are not alone in this – and feel guilt or shame for not having done so. All too often this leads to a holding pattern that leaves the weight of estate planning growing heavier with each passing quarter, year, five years…
We promise you that you will feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders when you take this head-on. Please schedule your Estate Planning Strategy Session today and let’s get working! Hell, it’s okay if you don’t like Owen or don’t want to work with him; he will be happy to get you in touch with an attorney more to your taste. But let’s get after this and put the reigns squarely in your hands. You will be thankful you did.