As a team of very experienced trust, estate, and wealth preservation lawyers, paralegals and client service representatives, we have helped over ten thousand clients to design estate plans that protect their assets and their heirs from divorces, lawsuits and other business creditors, ensure their wishes are carried out (on their terms), and provide peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones.
In the course of more than three decades of representing clients and families at all levels of affluence, we’ve learned quite a bit about best practices and ways of enhancing estate planning to do more of what you truly want.
We recognize that you’ve worked your entire life and built a great family, financial wealth and a broader legacy of values and things that are important to you. To help you to think about these issues, and to discuss them with counsel as an informed consumer of legal services, we’ve identified eight of the most important aspects of a well-designed estate plan.
There are many more and this site is filled with more specific ideas, topics and resources.
But if you’re thinking about updating your estate planning, here are some of the most important elements of any well-done planning:
A Clear And Properly Executed Will: A will is the foundation of any well done estate plan, and it's important that it clearly outlines how your assets should be distributed after your death. A will should be regularly reviewed and updated as your circumstances change and it should be coordinated with how you own your property or assets AND with the beneficiary designations of your annuities, life insurance, and IRA/401(k) accounts.
A Clear Strategy for Protecting What Matters Most: If there’s one thing that we’ve also learned, it’s that every client has their own specific goals for the estate planning process. They seem to share many values, but the specifics of what clients want and are willing to do vary. However, your legal team should be able to help you to shape the planning and documents that will carry out your specific goals such as protecting younger heirs through trusts, protecting our adult children and grandchildren from losing inherited assets to divorce and lawsuits, and minimizing taxes, costs and fees. Not everyone wants the same thing but having clarity of what is most important to you matters.
A Living Trust and/or Testamentary Trusts: A living trust is a legal document that outlines how your assets should be managed and distributed during your lifetime and after your death. In some cases (and in some states) a living trust can help you avoid probate and keep your affairs private. In Pennsylvania, where resorting to, or involvement of the probate court can be minimized through a well drafted will, use of a Living Trust may not be as important. But, in many circumstances (where, for example, you own real estate in multiple states or a will contest is likely) such a trust, in addition to your will, could be extremely important.
Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document that grants someone else the authority to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated. It's important to choose someone (and successors) you trust to act as your power of attorney and to discuss how and when the document would be used.
Healthcare Directive or Living Will/Medical POA: A healthcare directive is a legal document that outlines your wishes for medical treatment in the event that you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This document can provide guidance to your loved ones and healthcare providers in difficult situations. It is also often paired with or combined with a medical Power-Of-Attorney through which you decide and designate who will make medical decisions about your care if you no longer can.
Business Succession Plan: If you own a business, it's important to have a well drafted and strategic plan in place for what should happen to the business in the event of your death or incapacity. This can help ensure that your business continues to operate smoothly and that your loved ones are taken care of. This plan may include documents such as buy/sell agreements and other documents related to corporate or business entity governance in the event of death or incapacity.
Estate and Inheritance Tax Planning: Estate and inheritance taxes can significantly reduce the value of your estate, and since they are due within a short time after death, such taxes can place a real liquidity burden on even a healthy and large estate. However, there are numerous strategies that can help minimize this impact. An experienced estate lawyer can help you identify and implement the strategies and match with your goals and your willingness to turn over assets and control of assets at various points in your life.
Regular Review: Finally, it's important to regularly review and update your estate plan to ensure that it remains consistent with your wishes and reflects any changes in your circumstances.
In conclusion, a well-designed estate plan is essential for protecting your assets, ensuring your wishes are carried out, and providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones. By working with an experienced estate lawyer, you can design, execute and implement an estate plan that meets your unique needs and goals.
Our firm has a variety of resources to help you to prepare for doing your first comprehensive plan or for updating your existing planning.
If you already know that you want to work with us and/or have questions about how we work, or our fees, just call 610-933-8069 to speak to one of our very helpful client relations managers.
If you’re just starting or want to know more about estate planning and how we approach it, here are links to a few of those very helpful reports and resources:
Enhanced Estate Planning Report – What you need to know about hiring an attorney and planning your estate.
Understanding Trust Vocabulary