Estate Planning –

  • Last Will and Testament -- No matter how old you are, you should consider having your will prepared or updated to ensure that your wishes for the distribution of your property upon your death are carried out.  Also of importance for your peace of mind is ensuring a trusted individual is appointed to make sure your wishes are carried out and that all taxes and debts are paid in a timely manner. 
  • General Durable Power of Attorney -- Of equal importance to a Last Will and Testament is having a general durable power of attorney prepared to ensure that you have a trusted individual appointed to handle your finances if you are unable to do so due to a temporary or permanent disability.  If you do not have a general durable power of attorney and you suffer a stroke or some other brain injury making you unable to handle your financial affairs and action is required, the only alternative is to have the court appoint a guardian to handle your finances.  The cost to have a general durable power of attorney is considerably less than the cost of a guardianship. 
  • Health Care Power of Attorney -- Pennsylvania now has legislation to set out a procedure for health care providers to contact a family member if a health care decision must be made and you are unable to make that decision.  However, some times your family members do not know what you would want or may disagree with your decisions.  To ensure that your health care decisions and philosophies will be carried out if you are unable to understand or communicate your wishes to the health care provider, you should have a health care power of attorney naming a trusted individual as your agent to carry out your wishes or to make decisions that comport with your wishes. 
  • Living Will -- If you are in an end-stage medical condition or state of permanent unconsciousness verified by your treating physician and are unable to communicate your decisions or philosophy regarding life sustaining measures, it is very important that you have a Living Will setting out what you do or do not want to be done to keep you alive.  You do not need to identify an agent to make decisions for you if you are specific in your Living Will as to what you do or not want done.  You can appoint an agent to correspond with the health care providers and give that agent some discretion with regard to life-sustaining measures.

The importance of having these health care powers of attorney and living wills (also called “advanced directives”) prepared by a qualified attorney is so that your decisions will be in accordance with the law and there will be little room for disagreement.  You will be able to let your loved ones know what you want for treatment so that they will not be faced with making decisions that you would not have made.  It also should limit family discord if your family differs with regard to your treatment.   

The importance of having a last will and testament is so that your property is directed to the individual or individuals or charities to whom you want it to go rather than to whom the law says it should go. 

Estate Administration –

When a loved one dies, either with or without a will, there may be Pennsylvania inheritance tax owed on certain property owned by the loved one at the time of his/her death.  There may be some debts of the decedent that must be satisfied and some debts for which there may not be enough money in the estate to pay them.  Sometimes formal probate or administration of an estate is not necessary in order to pay the inheritance tax.  Attorney Whalen will be able to sit down with you to discuss what needs to be done to guide you personally through the process of administering the property of the decedent to ensure that all taxes are paid and the property goes to the appropriate individual or individuals after the appropriate debts are paid.  If formal probate or administration is necessary, Attorney Whalen will prepare the necessary documents and accompany you to the Register of Wills Office for the swearing of the oath and granting of Letters of Administration.  She will then assist you to gather all the information necessary to file the inheritance tax return, family settlement agreement or accounting to finalize probate or administration.      

Guardianships –

If a financial decision must be made for an individual who did not execute a financial power of attorney and is now unable to handle his/her own finances, it may be necessary to have a guardian appointed by the court to handle that individuals’ finances.  Attorney Whalen can assist you to prepare and present the appropriate petition to the court to have the person adjudicated incapacitated and an appropriate person appointed guardian of his/her estate.   Similarly, if there is no one named agent under a health care power of attorney and no one identified under the law to handle personal health care decisions for an individual who is unable to understand and communicate reasoned decisions, it may be necessary to have someone or an agency appointed guardian of the individual’s person.  Attorney Whalen will assist you through the process to ensure that trusted individuals or agencies are appointed by the court to ensure that the incapacitated person’s interests are best served.