Will and Estate Information


Semisch Law
408 North Easton Road
Willow Grove, PA 19090

Doylestown, PA
by appointment


Phone: (215) 659-7680
Fax: (215) 659-3184
Email: info@semischlaw.com

www.semischlaw.com

Preparing Last Wills


A will ensures the smooth transfer of property to your loved ones or designated charities upon death. That's the word that frightens people, but we have seen real comfort to grieving families because someone cared enough to be clear about what should happen to the assets. We've also seen anguish among loved ones because of denial of this inevitable day.

Writing a valid, well-thought-out will is one of the most helpful things you can do for those you love. Nobody wants to think about death, but we make the decisions as easy and painless as possible, and your heirs will have reason to bless and thank you for taking all the anxiety and dispute out of their grieving.


We have written literally thousands of last wills, for estates large, small, and in between, including simple wills, marital deduction and bypass trusts, special needs trusts, trusts for minor beneficiaries, irrevocable and revocable trusts, Medicaid qualifying trusts, charitable trusts (gifts to charity), and many others.


In most cases, writing a will is a simple matter. Here is the process:
1.    We discuss your wishes for where your assets will go at your death.
2.    We review your assets and determine what will pass by will and what will pass directly by a beneficiary clause on an IRA or life insurance policy. One of the biggest objectives is to avoid unnecessary taxes: a skillful lawyer is your best protection between your money and overcharges by the IRS and the state.
3.    We put together a plan that meets your needs and wishes and the needs of your family, taking due consideration for needs and ages of beneficiaries, minimizing taxes, and providing peace of mind for you.
4.    We work with you at each step to explain your options and clarify your wishes. All that matters is that you decide how you want your assets to be distributed. We make sure your will accomplishes your goals, according to your values, minimizing taxes and preserving your legacy. Each will is unique, as is the individual or family whose circumstances it reflects. We recommend a review every three to five years or if there is a major change of circumstances or finances.

In addition to providing for your assets, we strongly encourage you to draw up a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney with a Living Will. With these documents you designate an agent who can act for you in the event you are unable to act for yourself. With the Living Will you specify what medical treatments you would want should you ever be unable to make those decisions as they arise.
There are no universal right answers, merely what is right for you. Living wills can prevent agonizing decisions by your loved ones, and ensure that your wishes are carried out. A Durable Power of Attorney ensures that your affairs are looked after by someone you trust. We are here to help: a little time upfront saves money, time, and anguish in the face of the inevitable.


Elder Law
We have decades of experience looking after the legal needs of the elderly and infirm. We visit our elderly clients regularly, in some cases paying their bills, seeing to their care, notifying families of changes in their circumstances, even, on occasion, taking a cat to the vet. We take seriously our commitment to our elderly clients, who come to look upon us as part of their support network, as indeed we are proud to be.


Estates
We expedite efficient, fair distribution of bequests according to the will. We have seen fees that were out of control: someone's grandmother ended up leaving most of her money to her children's lawyer. We charge a fair fee (flat fee, hourly fee, or percentage of the estate) to take the worry out of your mind and get the assets (money, property, jewelry, what have you) into your hands.
If you want to probate the will yourself, we are always available to consult and review whatever puzzles you. You can probate the will—if you are patient, persevering, and have some time on your hands—and our review will guarantee you have done it all correctly.

FAQ's


How much does it cost to draw up a will?


That depends on how complicated your estate is. Most clients need a simple will, durable power of attorney, and a health care power of attorney with living will. More advanced estate planning takes more time and discussion to meet your special needs. We work efficiently and understand that resources are often limited.
We will help you find the plan that works best for your situation. Come spend an hour with us: we discount the initial visit and in that time you will come away with a sense of exactly what you need to decide and do and how much it will cost.


Why should I hire an attorney to do my will? Can't I just find a will form online?
For some very simple estates, that will work. The pitfalls include forms that do not meet the requirements of Pennsylvania law. Forms do not answer your questions or give you the background you need to make things work as smoothly as possible to meet your needs. Your choices can have a large effect on taxes and costs for your heirs. Spending time up front with a trained and experienced lawyer can end up saving you many times the cost in taxes and unnecessary charges. An estate planning lawyer will be able to help you make the right choices.


What questions should I be thinking about before coming in for a will?
Where do you want your assets to go? Who will raise your children if both parents are deceased? Who will manage your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out?


How long does it take?
For simpler estate plans you will typically meet with the attorney twice, first to gather information, and second to sign your documents.


How often should I revise my will?
You should review your will and powers of attorney every few years or when a major event has happened in your life that may affect your estate planning.


When do I need a trust?
If you have minor children, you should have trust language in your will that provides for a Trustee who will manage your children's assets and provide for their health, education and welfare until such time as you designate that they will have control over their inheritance. A trust may also be used to provide for a spouse or to shelter assets to limit taxes or provide for a special needs child for their lifetime.
How do I know if I have effectively planned my estate?
We will review your plan with you and discuss your options so that you are satisfied that your wishes will be met and that expenses and taxes will be minimized.


Do I really need a living will?
Yes. You need to put your wishes in writing as to what you want done or not done in the event you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or brain damaged. This makes life much easier for those you have named to make decisions for you in the event you are unable to tell the doctor what you want. It will also ease the burden on family members, who, rather than trying to divine what you might have wanted or disagree with each other about what should be done, can simply follow your stated wishes.


What kinds of questions must I answer for my living will?
Do you want tube feeding if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious with no hope of long term recovery or survival?
Do you want your agent to follow your instructions or do you want to give your agent some discretion on how to proceed?


What is a power of attorney and do I need one?
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document where you appoint an agent who can act for you if you are unable to handle your own affairs. It is like an insurance policy you hope never to use, but it will make sure that the person you want will handle your finances for you. Your agent can step into your shoes and handle all matters on your behalf including writing checks, selling real estate, and filing income tax returns. Without a power of attorney your family will have to go to court to have you declared incapacitated and have the court appoint a guardian to handle your affairs.
Can I just come in for a consultation for a will? How long would that take and how much would it cost?
Yes. You may want a review of your will documents to make sure they still meet your needs after the passing of a spouse or other beneficiary or a move from another state to Pennsylvania. Depending on your estate plan, this usually can be covered in one visit. Our charge for an initial consultation is $100.00.

 

ESTATE INFORMATION

An estate is what is left behind when someone dies. There are laws that govern how those assets are to be distributed, either according to the stated wishes of the person who died, or according to established rules in the Pennsylvania code.

An executor (if there is a will) or administrator (if there is no will or the executor named by the will is no longer available) is the person who sees to the proper distribution of the estate. An executor or administrator is appointed to
•    Pay the decedent's debts
•    Clean out the house and deal with material belongings
•    Gather the assets
•    Sell or transfer real estate
•    See that the provisions of the will are carried out or, if there is no will, that the assets are distributed to next of kin according to the law.

Being an executor is like running a business. You must handle income taxes, inheritance taxes, bills, assets, telephone calls from family members wondering how long before they receive their bequests, real estate transactions, notifications to beneficiaries according to the law, accountings for beneficiaries, and much more.
The role of executor consumes time. Not only is there the time it takes to do all that needs to be done, there is the additional time devoted to learning the ropes.
An experienced lawyer can facilitate the management and distribution of the estate in a cost-effective and speedy manner.

FAQ's


I'm the executor of my relative's estate. What is my first step?
Take the will to the register of wills in the county in which the decedent lived to have it probated. Probate means the will has been filed and the executor has been sworn in and officially appointed by the state. You will receive a "short certificate", which you will need to present to the bank, brokerage firms, title company, auto tag place, and others for transferring control of property and assets.


My relative died without a will. What do we do?
You will need to determine who is/are next of kin under state law. That person or people will serve as administrator of the estate. Next of kin is generally spouse first, then children, then parents, then siblings, and so on.
My relative or friend is the executor of my relative's estate and I'm not sure he/she is up to the job. What should I do?
Contact a lawyer and discuss your concerns. Discharging the duties of executor can seem opaque from the outside and things can take longer than you expect, particularly if real estate must be sold in order to liquidate assets. Sometimes, of course, executors are in over their heads. A qualified, experienced lawyer can help you determine which is the case and take proper action to remedy the situation.

An estate to which I am a beneficiary seems to be taking a long, long time to wrap up. What is the normal time frame for such things?
This varies greatly depending on the complexity of the estate. A simple estate should take six months to a year to be substantially completed. Factors that complicate estates include real estate that is difficult to sell, ownership of a business, law suits, conflicting wills, challenges to the will, and many others.


What is the inheritance tax in PA?
At this writing, no tax on assets passing to a spouse or to charity. 4.5% on assets passing lineally, that is passing to children, grandchildren, and parents. 12% on assets passing to siblings. 15% on assets passing to nieces, nephews, friends, or other individuals.


When does an estate owe federal estate tax?
If an individual owns more than $5,000,000 in assets and life insurance, that estate will owe a percentage to the federal government. If you have an estate this large, you should consult an estate planning attorney so as to limit your federal estate liability.


The executor of my relative's estate is charging money to do the work. Is that fair?
Yes. An executor is entitled to a reasonable fee for the work he or she is doing. If you believe the fees are unreasonable, you should consult an attorney to review them. Executors can charge by the hour or a percentage of the estate.


I am a beneficiary and I feel shut out by the executor. What are my rights?
You are entitled to initial notice that you are a beneficiary of the estate. After that, if the executor is not communicating with you and not responding to your inquiries, you can file a petition to request an accounting from the executor in Orphan's Court. An estate planning attorney can help you.


I am a beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Is there inheritance tax on that in Pennsylvania?
No. Life insurance proceeds are not taxable under PA state law.


I am an executor and the other beneficiaries keep doubting me and hassling me. What can I do?
Communication and documentation are your stalwart protections against misunderstanding and lack of faith. Keep good records and keep the beneficiaries in the loop. While you may not be able to keep everyone happy at all times, you can protect yourself by maintaining transparency and integrity. If you feel matters have become grave, you can consult a qualified, experienced estate planning lawyer for advice in dealing with the beneficiaries.


I said I'd be an executor but I'm in over my head. What should I do?
Consult a qualified, experienced estate planning lawyer, who can help you with all aspects of the administration of the estate. What you have only begun to learn, your estate lawyer will have seen and successfully completed many, many times. No estate, no matter how tangled or complicated, is unsolvable.


I am a co-executor and the other executor is being a secretive control freak. What should I do?
It depends on the estate and what the specific issues are. If the co-executor is being uncooperative, you may need to consult an estate planning attorney to encourage communication and transparency. As a last resort, you may need to go to court and ask the judge to intervene.


Glossary of Terms:


Asset Protection
Steps taken to minimize exposure to estate and inheritance taxes, claims from creditors, and to ensure qualifying for Medicaid.


Bequest
A gift to a beneficiary.


Business Succession Plan
A document specifying the ways in which your business will be passed on to your heirs.


Elder Law
A focus on the needs of the elderly with special attention to their medical and personal needs while protecting their assets for their use and for their heirs.


Estate Litigation
A dispute over the handling of a will, trust, or estate. When a problem arises with the administration of an estate or trust, the Orphans' Court has jurisdiction to hear and decide on a party's complaints.


Estate Planning
A plan can include preparation of a will, power of attorney, living will, and trusts as necessary for each individual's needs and desires that maximize what can be left to your beneficiaries.


Estate Tax
The federal government levies an Estate and Gift Tax on large estates. The amount of the exemption is set by Congress.


Family Living Partnership
A way to hold assets and preserve them for the use of current and future generations.

Grantor
The creator of a trust, in which assets are held on behalf of a grantee.

Inheritance Tax
Pennsylvania's inheritance tax has four brackets ranging from zero percent to fifteen percent and is levied on all assets controlled by you at your death with some exceptions.

Irrevocable Trust
Placement of assets into a trust that can not be modified once it is created and funded.

Living Trust
A trust that benefits the Grantor(s) during their lifetime(s) and passes to the beneficiaries without passing through probate.

Living Will
A document that expresses your wishes as to the level of care you desire if you are in an end stage condition and are unable to express your choice at that time.


Long Term Care Insurance
A policy that, at its best, provides coverage for the care you might require at home or in a medical or residential facility.

Medicaid Planning
A review of what needs to be done to qualify for Medicaid and to protect the assets and income needed for those who are not institutionalized.

Minor Trust
A trust that holds assets for the benefit of a minor until they are of age or longer, according to the terms of the trust.

Power of Attorney
Durable Power of Attorney: A document drafted in the form required by law that designates an agent who can handle your affairs in the event you are unable to do so.
Health care power of attorney: A document that appoints an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. It usually includes a Living Will to express your wishes and instructions for care.
Financial power of attorney: An appointment of an agent who can handle your financial affairs which is usually drafted as a Durable Power of Attorney.

Probate
The filing of the will of a deceased person with the Register of Wills in the county where they resided at their death.

Revocable Trust
A trust that can be modified by the Grantor after it is created and funded.


Special Needs Trust
A trust that supplements the needs of an individual who is receiving government aid.

Trust
A document that holds assets for the terms and conditions set forth as chosen by the Grantor.

Will
A document that designates the disposition of a person's assets after their death.


Will Contest
A challenge to the validity of a will that is filed in the Orphans' Court of the county where the decedent resided at their death.

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