By Fabio Sciarrino, Esq.
We take for granted having the ability to handle our own affairs, but what will happen to our property, finances and other assets when we are gone? As an attorney, I have written a number of wills for friends, family, and neighbors. Yet I am still surprised at how many people in our community do not have a last will and testament, or “will” for short. Folks, put simply a will is one of the most important legal documents a person can prepare in their adult life. Preparing a will can be simple, painless, and save you and your family a great deal of grief, if the will is prepared properly.
Alright, so what is a will? Put simply, a will is a legal document that helps you put your affairs in order when you die. A will allows an adult individual to outline what they would like to see happen to their property (such as a home, heirlooms and personal effects), their finances (such as the payment of taxes and outstanding debts), and their other assets (such as retirement benefits, bank accounts, stocks and ownership interests in businesses). A will also identifies who will handle these matters on behalf of the estate, commonly referred to as an administrator or executor. An estate is a legal entity created after death to stand in the place of the adult individual.
For those of us with minor children, a will also allows for the naming of a guardian to care and provide for those minor children. A will allows for the creation of a trust, which can be funded through a myriad of ways, to have the ultimate purpose of providing sufficient funds for the care of minor children until they reach a certain age, typically 18.
It does not matter whether you are wealthy or live a life of modest means, you should have a will. It also does not matter whether you are 25, 55, or 85, you should have a will. It also does not matter whether you have minor children, adult children, no children, or plan to have children or more children, you should have a will. The bottom line is — and I seriously cannot stress this enough — everyone should have a will.
As life circumstances change, such as the purchase of a second home, the birth of a child, or the receipt of an inheritance, you should update your will. In Pennsylvania, a will is not filed, commonly referred to as “probated”, until after a person dies. Therefore, you can change or update your will at any time throughout your life, as circumstances require.
If you die without a will, what is referred to as dying “intestate”, all of your assets and property will be distributed according a formula fixed by law, which means that your spouse may have to share assets with other family members not of your choosing. Moreover, the court will appoint an administrator or executor, a person whom you may or may not know, to handle the affairs of your estate. Dying without a will could also result in minor children being placed in the care of a court-appointed guardian rather than with people you would have chosen to care for them. Importantly, dying intestate could also create lengthy delays in the final distribution of property and assets.
There is no set price for having your will prepared. Keep in mind, however, that a will which addresses your specific needs and desires, will depend upon the complexity of your situation and intentions. Estate planning involves judgment and skills acquired only through professional training and experience. Standardized wills and trusts, such as those produced using kits, computer software, or online providers may not be drafted to comply with Pennsylvania laws. Like snowflakes, no two wills are quite alike.
A will or trust that is not properly drafted could result in your estate being distributed in a way that is contrary to your wishes and your family may incur unnecessary legal costs should the will or trust be challenged. Therefore, the only way to be certain that your specific needs and desires are being met is by consulting a knowledgeable lawyer. Most lawyers offer an initial consultation through which they are able to review your needs and then estimate the cost of preparing your will.
Please do not hesitate to contact me at 267-615-8090 or at email@example.com, to schedule a free consultation on preparing a will custom fit for you and your family.
Fabio A. Sciarrino, Esq.