A Last Will and Testament is one of the most important documents in Estate Planning. Your Will tells your family and the State how your assets are to be distributed. If not explicitly explained via a Will, the State may divide your assets according to state law and perhaps against your wishes.
Your Will may be detailed or succinct, but it will always follow a general format and identify: your beneficiaries, Executor/Executrix, any alternates, burial arrangements and distribution of assets. For parents with young children, your Will would also provide guidance regarding guardianship of your children. Even the family pets!
Your beneficiaries may be your spouse, children or close friends. Your Will should clearly state who your beneficiaries are or state law may determine to whom your assets should be distributed.
Selecting an Executor (male) or Executrix (female) should be a well thought out decision as this individual will be responsible for opening your estate, paying debts owed by the estate and distributing assets according to the directions of your Will.
Remember to update your Will after major life change such as marriage, divorce, adoption, new home purchase, etc.
A Healthcare Directive is frequently referred to as a Living Will or an Advanced Directive. No matter the moniker, a Healthcare Directive provides your "Agent" with clear advice regarding one's medical preferences if you are unable to communicate these wishes on your own behalf.
Your Healthcare Directive contains two parts:
A Living Will in Pennsylvania states what medical care you do and do not want to keep you alive if you are in an end-state medical condition or in a state of permanent unconsciousness. It does not apply to any other situations.
This is different from your Healthcare Power of Attorney, which applies whenever you are unable to understand, make or communicate a health care decision.
Special Rules for Pregnancy
If you are woman and are diagnosed as being pregnant at the time of a health care decision would otherwise be made pursuant to this form, special rules apply. We encourage you to meet with an experienced attorney to discuss these implications.
A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives the person you choose the legal authority to conduct personal and financial affairs on your behalf. In the event you are unable, become incapacitated or can no longer rely on your own judgment, your "Agent" will be able to act in your stead.
A Power of Attorney can be limited in scope and duration or "durable". For example, if you travel frequently or conduct business in another state, you may choose to name an individual or local attorney as your Agent or Attorney-In-Fact due to their proximity to your business dealings. This limited Power of Attorney will be invalid if you become incapacitated.
Therefore, most individuals request a "durable" Power of Attorney. A durable Power of Attorney remains in effect if you become incapacitated and will only end upon your death or revocation.
It is important to note that your POA cannot be drafted if you are no longer of sound mind. If you are no longer competent, you cannot grant personal and financial powers to your Agent.
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