We know summer vacation means leaving your worries at home. We also know that estate planning may seem unimportant when there are many other tasks to accomplish before you leave. Unfortunately, we can't predict when bad circumstances will arise. Before you pack your bags, we strongly recommend that you plan for the unexpected by putting your estate planning documents in place to protect yourself, your loved ones and your young children (if any). So, what do you need to do? 1. Schedule your appointment and meet with estate attorney 2. Execute a Will - Your Will directs how your estate should be distributed upon your death, who will administer your estate, who will handle trusts for minor children and the terms of any said trust, along with other specific wishes after your death. If you die without a Will, Pennsylvania's intestacy laws will direct how your estate is handled and distributed, which may contradict your wishes. For example, if you are married with children and die without a Will, your assets are split between your spouse and children. Most clients want their assets to first go entirely to their spouse. If your children are minors, the court will require the assets be held in trust until they are no longer minors.
3. Name a guardian for minor children - If you have minor children, this is a must. Who will take care of your children and make decisions for them if you cannot? Where will your children live? Who will manage money for them if you cannot? These are not easy questions, but they need to be addressed. You should appoint a guardian(s) as well as back-up guardians in the event that both parents are unable to care for your children. Doing so allows you to carefully choose the person(s) you trust, often someone that shares your values and parenting style, and someone that will love, embrace and support your children. 4. Execute your Powers of Attorney - Powers of Attorney are typically separated into two documents, one for general and financial advocacy and one for medical advocacy. In the event that you are unable to handle your own financial affairs (i.e. because you'll be on vacation or due to incapacity) or in the event you are unable to make your own medical decisions, who would you trust to advocate for you and assist you? You do not need to choose the same advocates (known as your Agents) for both documents. 5. Execute your Living Will/Advanced Directive - This document is only used in the event that you are incompetent and unable to direct your doctor in an end of life circumstance. This allows you to take the burden off of your loved ones and decide now what your wishes are. 6. Make sure your beneficiary forms are up-to-date. Your estate attorney can make sure your beneficiary designation forms are consistent with your estate plan. Did you prepare DIY documents? From time to time, people may opt to prepare DIY estate planning documents online. While these documents are simply just input and output documents, you may not have time to update your documents with an estate attorney before leaving for vacation. I highly recommend reviewing your documents to ensure it reflects your wishes, and checking that the documents have been signed, dated, witnessed and notarized. Finally, estate planning is more than just filling in an online form and printing documents. You should meet with an estate attorney when you return from vacation to ensure the documents really are serving your needs and adhering to Pennsylvania law.
One last thing before you go...
Take a few minutes to get your documents and pertinent information organized. If something were to happen to you on vacation, does your Agent under your Power of Attorney or Executor know where you keep your important information? Consider putting together a binder or organizing your filing cabinet with the following:
All vital documents (birth certificates, marriage license, divorce decree, social security cards, etc.)
Estate planning documents
Life insurance policies
Original stocks and/or bonds
List of all bank accounts and other financial assets
List of routine expenses (i.e. utility bills)
Digital information sheet with log-in account names and passwords
Final thoughts If you don't have these vital documents, now is the time to start thinking about estate planning. Typically the process takes 2-3 weeks to complete so leave time to get your documents in place before you leave. We are happy to schedule a virtual or in-person initial consultation with you or you can schedule online at bartonestatelaw.com/appointment.