Wills, Trusts and Estates
Our law firm has served Berks County families for generations.
Our clients benefit from our extensive experience in:
- Estate planning
- Preparation of wills, living wills and powers of attorney
- Tax and financial planning
- Probate and administration of estates
- Preparation of federal and state tax returns for trusts, estates and individuals
Wills, Trusts and Estates Questions
Why do I need a Will?
A Will expresses an individual’s instructions for the distribution of assets that are titled solely in his or her name, upon his death. The Will also identifies who will be the person to administer the Estate (the “Executor”). Most importantly for people with minor children, the Will sets forth who is to serve as the Guardian for your minor children, assuming that there is no surviving natural parent. Contrary to popular belief, if you die without a Will (intestate), all of your assets do not go to “the state” Rather, a Pennsylvania statute directs how your assets will be distributed. Thus, as a consequence of dying intestate, you are running the risk of your assets being distributed to people you do not wish to inherit from your estate. Further, there may be delays in the final distribution of assets because of disagreement over who should administer it.
Perhaps the most severe consequence of dying intestate is that a court may be forced to decide with whom your minor children will be placed if there is a dispute between your surviving relatives.
Can I change my Will?
So long as you are competent, and you are exercising your free will, you may change or amend the terms of your Will as often as you like. The last Will you execute prior to your death is the one that will be probated. In fact, we recommend that you review your estate plan on a regular basis, and also upon the occurrence of major life events, such as birth, death, or your children turning 18.
Are Wills expensive?
There is no set price for a Will and the cost to prepare one will depend upon the complexity of the plan that your situation and desires require.
What is probate?
Probate really has two meanings. The first meaning is generally given to describe the overall administration of the estate from its opening to final distribution. The second meaning is the process of the Executor appearing at the Register of Wills office with a death certificate, and the original Will (if there is one), at which time he or she will file a “Petition for the Grant of Letters”. After review by the Register of Wills the Executor will be given a “Short Certificate”, which is proof that you have the authority to act on behalf of the Estate.
If there is no Will, the Register of Wills will grant Letters of Administration to a “Personal Representative”. The selection of the person to fill the position of administrator is controlled by statute, and in some cases, by a hearing before the Register of Wills.
What are the advantages of Probate?
The probate process is required by Pennsylvania law to assure the proper distribution of the estate assets and to protect the beneficiaries of your estate.
Is probate expensive?
The cost of probate includes the filing fees for opening the estate which is payable to the Register of Wills. Advertising the Grant of Letters of Administration or Testamentary, needs to be done in a local legal advertising agency and a newspaper of general circulation. There are filing fees for filing inventory and other documents to complete the administration process. There is also a cost for the appraisals of real property and personal assets. There are legal fees for handling the estate, which work would include the preparation of various inheritance tax returns, estate tax returns and/or income tax returns and appropriate advice on the steps of administration of the estate to contain costs and taxes.
Is the probate process lengthy?
Probate does not need to be and normally does not take long in comparison with other states. Under Pennsylvania statute, the Executor or Administrators have broad powers to accomplish the administration of the estate and most details of administration can be completed and without court approval.
The executor or administrator are normally in a position to distribute assets to the beneficiaries as soon as it can reasonably be determined that there are sufficient assets to pay the outstanding bills, costs and taxes.
I have about $500,000.00 in assets that I would like to go to my adult children when I die.
Do I need to think about trust, or is a will sufficient?
Everyone should have a will and, perhaps, a power of attorney and living will. In some situations, trusts are also appropriate. It is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine what documents are necessary to make sure that at your death your assets go to the individuals you wish to receive them and to ensure that all actions are taken to avoid paying any unnecessary inheritance and estate taxes.