Proper Will Drafting Helps Avoid Unintended Consequences

As with any legal document, the failure to adequately draft and prepare a will can result in unintended consequences.  This principle is illustrated in the Estate of George Zeevering, PICS Case No. 13-2726 (Pa. Super. Sept. 26, 2013).  In Zeevering, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the lower court’s decision that the decedent’s estate would partially be distributed pursuant to intestate laws because the decedent’s will failed to dispose of the entire estate.

The will in question was hand-drafted by the decedent without the aid of legal counsel.  The will did not dispose of the decedent’s entire estate, mainly because no residuary, or “catch-all” clause, was included.  Decedent had five children, but only named two of the five children in the hand-written will.  While the will provided specific gifts for two of the children, it failed to completely dispose of decedent’s property, including a retirement account valued at over $200,000.

The children named in the will argued that decedent’s failure to name the other three children illustrated decedent’s intent to effectively disinherit them as an intentional omission.  The court reiterated that intestate laws are only bypassed when a will disposes of an entire estate, and that assumptions cannot be adopted to reform a will.  Therefore the court, in rejecting the two named children’s argument, ruled that the residual portion of decedent’s estate not disposed of by the will passed equally to all five of decedent’s children.

Although the concept of a will is straightforward and simple to many, various legal components and issues must be reviewed and may be involved.  In order to avoid unintended consequences, legal counsel should always be retained when preparing an estate plan and drafting a will.  To draft a will or generally discuss estate planning issues and questions, please contact Christian Miller at or (717) 845-1524 ext. 121.

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Things to Consider While Writing Your Will

Attorney Writing Up A DocumentWriting a will can be a difficult and emotional experience. Few of us want to consider a time when we will no longer be with our families. However, a will is an important legal instrument to help ensure when your family is grieving, your wishes will be respected. A will can protect your family from disputes, offer you peace of mind and ensure your loved ones don’t have to see your estate divided by Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws.

What to Think About Before You Write Your Will

Before you do sit down to create a will, there are several things you will want to consider first:

  • How much property and how many assets do you have? Take a close look. Keep in mind that if you own joint property, the property will generally pass to the other owner. Carefully evaluate all your property and assets so you don’t neglect to mention a component.
  • How do you want to distribute your property? You can leave your property to organizations or to people.
  • Do you have minor children or loved ones who cannot care for themselves? If so, you may wish to leave a personal guardian and a person you trust to manage the assets you leave to your children.
  • Are you leaving specific gifts? It can be a challenge to leave specific gifts, such as “$100,000 to my daughter” because your estate may change over time. If you need extensive medical care at some point in your life, for example, your estate may shrink. Once your specific bequests are made, some people in your will may be left without any property.
  • What taxes will your beneficiaries have to pay? If you leave a specific item in your will — such as a piece of art — you must have it appraised, and your beneficiary will have to pay taxes once they inherit the item. Depending on the value of items you wish to give, you may choose to give some property to beneficiaries now to avoid appraisal expenses and other costs.
  • Who can act as your executor? An executor ensures your wishes are carried out and the provisions of your will are followed. One of the things to consider when thinking about how to prepare your will is whom you can trust for this position.

How to Write a Will in PA

Once you have considered whom you will leave your property to and how much property you have to leave, you may be wondering how to create your will. Laws for wills in PA do not require you to notarize your will. However, to save your beneficiaries time, you may still want to visit a notary to make your will “self-proving.” Essentially, this means your beneficiaries won’t have to wait for the court to contact the witnesses on your will.

While there are many websites about how to draw up a will, one of the simplest ways to plan your estate is to speak to an experienced probate attorney. An attorney can prepare all the paperwork for you and can have your will made to your exact requirements. If there are any unusual requirements, an attorney can reduce the chances of any issues or problems later on.

If you’d like to write your will so it is legal and really assists your family during what will be a time of grief, contact MPL Law. Our attorneys take the time to listen, and we work hard to ensure your will reflects your true wishes.

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How to Choose the Best Estate Plan for You and Your Family

Family Of FourNot having an estate plan is like not having an emergency plan. When the worst happens, you want to make sure you and your family are protected. Many people think estate planning is just about having a will, but in reality, it can involve other decisions and legal protections, too.

Tips for Estate Planning

Everyone needs an estate plan. Even if your estate is very small and your situation is straightforward, you’ll need a will, a power of attorney to protect you if you can’t make decisions for yourself and a document to indicate your wishes for end of life decisions. If you have any property at all, estate planning ensures your property goes where you want it to. It also ensures your wishes are respected if you are seriously injured.

Estate Planning Tips for Non-Traditional Families

If you are living with your partner but are not married, your partner does not have the same rights as a spouse. You will need a will to ensure your partner gets your assets and property. Without it, your immediate family, such as parents or siblings, are more likely to receive your property. You may also want to sign a power of attorney to ensure your partner can make decisions for you if you are seriously injured or cannot make decisions for yourself.

Similarly, if you have step-children, your will and estate plan will need to reflect that fact. You may need to appoint a guardian if the children are minors. Otherwise, a court may decide who will take care of your step-children. In addition, without a will, your step-children may not be granted any of your property, either. Proper estate planning ensures everyone in a blended family is provided for.

If you have a child with special needs, you may need a special needs trust to bequeath your estate and to ensure your child gets the best care even if you’re gone. Without a special needs trust, your children may have some of their government benefits taken away, and you may not have a say in who provides for them.

Estate Planning Strategies for Business Owners

If you own a business, you need to decide who will take care of it. If you are the owner of the business, you may need a succession plan so someone takes over your company after you’re gone. Even if you have a business partner, you may want a succession plan or buyout plan in place.

Estate Planning Checklist

If you are considering your estate plan, keep these steps in mind:

  • Draw up a will
  • Create a Power of Attorney in case of incapacity
  • Create a living will for end of life decisions
  • Name beneficiaries on your insurance plans
  • Name beneficiaries on your IRA, 401K or other retirement documents
  • Buy life insurance or preplan and prepay your funeral
  • Discuss your plans and preferences with your family
  • Consider trusts or succession/buyout plans, depending on your situation

If you have questions or are ready to create an estate plan that works for you, contact MPL Law. With more than 30 years of experience in estate planning in York, PA and the surrounding region, our attorneys can help you design a personalized plan to respect your wishes and protect your family.

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