The fundamental estate planning tool, a last will and testament (or “will”) determines how your possessions will be distributed when you pass away. Your possessions include anything that you own, such as any personal property, real estate, vehicles, business interests, stocks & bonds, and bank accounts. Even if you have a small number of possessions, a properly executed will is essential to ensure that these hard earned possessions are transferred according to your wishes, whether it is to family members, friends, or charity. A will also allows you to appoint someone you trust as a personal representative (also known as an executor or executrix) to distribute your assets and settle your estate. Finally, a will allows you to appoint a guardian to care for any surviving minor children after you have passed.
Who can make a last will and testament? In Pennsylvania, anyone who is eighteen or older and of sound mind can make a will.
Do I need a last will and testament? As described above, there are several reasons to create a will. A last will and testament allows you to (1) protect your interests (and the interests of your potential heirs) in having your property distributed as you wish, (2) name a personal representative to settle your estate, and (3) select someone you trust to care for any minor children you may have after you have passed.
Does all property pass through a last will and testament? No. There are several types of property that are not affected by a will. Generally, these include assets such as joint interests in property, life insurance policies, payable/transfer on death accounts, retirement accounts (401Ks, IRAs, annuities, etc.), and assets owned in revocable living trusts. Many of these assets are paid to a beneficiary who is specifically identified in the plan or account.
What happens if I die without a last will and testament? In the absence of a will, your property will pass strictly according to Pennsylvania statute. This statute does not consider your intended distribution plan or the specific needs of those who would have otherwise inherited according to your wishes. Under the laws of intestate succession, the distribution of your assets will vary greatly depending on your marital status and whether you have surviving parents or children.
If you or a loved one is in need of assistance regarding estate planning or the creation of a last will and testament, call Keen Keen & Good at 610-383-7810 today or contanct us by email using the intake form to the right. Our estate planning attorneys can help you identify the assets you wish to pass, formulate a distribution plan, and create a will that best reflects these goals.