Estate Planning

Estate planning is the process of protecting individuals and their assets during life as well as making disposition of those assets upon death. Mary Schellhammer is an estate planning attorney with over 25 years of experience in this area. When you contact Mary to assist you with your estate planning matters, you will find an attorney who listens to your unique concerns and makes certain that they are addressed through the proper documents and processes.

Pennsylvania Estate Planning is Not Just Wills (But You Should Have One)

Many assume that estate planning is only about a Will or that only wealthy people need to have an estate plan, but the reality is quite different. For example, there are estate planning tools that can protect you while you are traveling or if you become incapacitated. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you develop methods to minimize tax consequences or protect your assets.

In addition, your lawyer can help with matters that are common to those who are seriously injured or become ill and unable to care for themselves. This includes Guardianships for when our parents, siblings, or special needs adult children can no longer care for themselves. It also includes help with facility admissions and qualification under Medicare or Medicaid, which can be challenging to navigate.

An estate planning attorney can help you plan for times when you cannot conduct or direct your own care and affairs, and then can help you plan for the ultimate disposition of your assets by preparing and utilizing appropriate documents such as but not limited to Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney.

Why Everyone Needs a Will - Including You

While it is true that most people do not have to worry about federal tax liability impacting their estate when they pass away, there is still Pennsylvania tax liability to consider. In addition, even the smallest estates run into problems when someone passes away without a Will. This is because under this circumstance, your family will need to go to court to have an administer appointed for your estate. This can cause unnecessary stress and discord for survivors because of the lack of planning. Also, if you have certain items you want to go to certain people, or you want to make sure certain individuals receive a financial bequest, a Will is the best way to make certain this occurs. As a result, a small amount of time and money spent now could save your loved ones a substantial amount of stress and money later on. 

Everyone Needs Powers of Attorney & Living Wills

A Power of Attorney is a document that allows a person you trust to perform actions or make decisions for you. In some cases, these documents are only active when you become incapacitated. In other cases, you may choose to use one when you are traveling, not easily reachable, and want someone to be able to pay your bills for you. You may have used a limited Power of Attorney when you bought a car at a dealer and they asked you to sign one so they could take care of the registration forms for you. There are many different kinds of Powers of Attorney, including general, limited, medical, financial, and “springing.” A springing Power of Attorney only becomes effective upon the occurrence of a specified event, such as the onset of incapacity of the “donor” or creator of the Power.

Financial Power of Attorney

As the name suggests, a Financial Power of Attorney is a document that allows someone to take financial actions for you. Exactly what actions they may take depends on the authority provided within the document. For example, your Power of Attorney could allow someone to pay bills for you, or sell property, or even make investments. Obviously, it is critical that you trust the person you choose if you are going to provide them with this level of authority. Most people use Powers of Attorney in order to allow someone to handle their affairs if they should become incapacitated and unable to act on their own behalf.

Healthcare Power of Attorney & Living Will

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that allows someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Everyone should have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, even if they are married. You should also have a Living Will. A Living Will is a document that provides details to your physicians about what medical care you want and do not want should you require life sustaining treatment but are unable to speak for yourself. Life sustaining treatment include such things as breathing machines, CPR, and artificial nutrition and hydration. The discussions that occur when completing these documents help your loved ones understand your desires and why you feel the way you do about the use of heroic health care.

People of All Ages Need Healthcare Powers of Attorney & Living Wills

Many people think they do not need a Healthcare Power of Attorney or Living Will because they do not expect anything to happen to them. Of course, rarely do we expect something bad to happen. As a result, regardless of your age, once you are an adult, it is important that you think through what medical actions you do or do not want taken on your behalf, and that you identify a person who can make decisions for you. Once you turn 18 you are legally an adult and your parents can no longer make decisions for you. Therefore, as soon as one reaches adulthood, there should be a “second in command” designated to step-in in case you are unable to take care of yourself and your own business.  This kind of protection can only happen through advanced planning and having the appropriate documents in place. Once you complete your Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will you should place them with your local healthcare provider(s) so they know your wishes and also who to contact if you become unable to speak for yourself.

Online Forms Are a Bad Choice

Some will use forms they find or buy online to create their Wills or Powers of Attorney. The problem with these forms is they are not created to address your specific needs and desires. In addition, they might not comply with the statutory requirements of Pennsylvania, rendering them ineffective. If you want to make sure you have documents that address your needs and Pennsylvania’s requirements, it is important to retain an experienced estate planning attorney to draft them.

Remember, Documents Can Be Changed

If you are concerned about creating documents such as a Will, or Powers of Attorney, because you might change your mind, remember that all of these documents can be modified or even completely revoked and rewritten. The law recognizes that the needs and desires of people change throughout their lives. Forming a relationship with an estate planning attorney will enable your lawyer to help you as you make changes in your life and therefore need to make changes to these critical documents.

Estate Planning in Somerset, Cambria & Bedford

Mary Schellhammer provides estate planning services in Somerset, Cambria, and Bedford counties. Whether you are contemplating your future and the disposition of your assets, need assistance with an elderly parent who can no longer care for themselves, or are concerned about protecting yourself in the here and now, Mary can help. Contact her today to find out about her Pennsylvania estate planning representation.